There is a welcome bipartisan development on Capitol Hill in the wake of the bruising and costly 35-day government shutdown. Sentiment is growing in both parties for a law that would prevent future closures. It is about time.
The Hill newspaper reports that prominent leaders in both major parties, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., agree with the goal of preventing future shutdowns.
The partial government closure that ended Jan. 25 was about a dispute over funding for a barrier on the Mexico border. The partisan fight is estimated to have cost the economy $11 billion, of which $3 billion will not be recovered. It interfered with border control, air traffic, national parks and other government functions, caused an estimated 800,000 federal workers to miss two paychecks, and imposed a similar penalty on an unknown but large number of federal contract employees and their firms.
On Jan. 24 the House turned down a Republican proposal to pay federal workers while Congress continued its stalemate on funding President Donald Trump’s wall. But 13 Democrats out of Ms. Pelosi’s 19-vote edge voted for the proposal, a good sign that bipartisan sentiment against the shutdown had gained momentum in the House.
There are a number of bills already before Congress that call for preventing future shutdowns, and each has its pros and cons. What they have in common is the excellent idea that already authorized government activities should continue if the two chambers of Congress, or Congress and the president, cannot agree on the terms of a new funding proposal.
Some bills would provide for simply paying government workers while disputes over future funding continue. Others would automatically continue appropriations for all government activities during periods of gridlock.
Some bills would add penalties for failing to agree. For instance, The Hill cites the “Stop Stupidity Act” proposed by Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., which besides continuing to fund most government activities would deny funds to Congress and the White House as long as the standoff continued. House Minority Leader McCarthy endorsed a similar approach on Sunday’s “Meet the Press,” saying. “You want to know how you’ll never have a shutdown again? Let’s not pay the members of Congress and Senate.”
That would certainly provide more incentive to come to an agreement.
The Hill notes that some legislative leaders are not onboard with the drive to eliminate shutdowns, citing the concerns of House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., that automatic appropriations might make it harder for Congress to meet its annual funding deadlines.
Nor is it clear that President Trump would sign such legislation. The cure for that is to aim for veto-proof majorities in the House and Senate on any anti-shutdown legislation.
In recent years Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, has introduced legislation for a permanent continuing resolution to fund the government during a failure to meet annual appropriations deadlines, with the added proviso that funds would be automatically reduced every three months until agreement is reached.
When the shutdown finally ended last Friday, Sen. Portman declared, “Let’s do something about it now while the pain and inefficiency of this moment is fresh on our minds.” That’s the spirit. Seize the moment and eliminate the use of government shutdowns as a bargaining tool.