There is a way to prevent government shutdowns. A change in U.S. law would keep federal workers on the job and ensure that treasured sites such as the Statue of Liberty and Yosemite stay open during a budget fight, instead of becoming political pawns.
The idea’s been around for three decades, but even after a 16-day shutdown that cost billions of dollars and outraged voters, it’s a tough sell in Washington.
Why? Without the risk of a shutdown, there’s no telling how long politicians might put off making hard budget decisions.
The United States could end up with government by autopilot.
Even those who say an anti-shutdown law could avoid that trap find it tricky to come up with a plan that’s acceptable to the various factions locked in budget gridlock these days.
Nevertheless, a prominent fiscal conservative in the Senate is reviving the idea as lawmakers seek a budget deal to head off the risk of another shutdown in January. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, will use his spot on the House-Senate negotiating team to push his shutdown-prevention measure, said his spokeswoman Caitlin Dunn.
“It’s appealing to take the risk of shutdown off the table,” said Marc Goldwein of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, a bipartisan group seeking to curb the national debt. “But it has its risks.”
Money to fund the federal government is appropriated each fiscal year, but Congress almost never finishes its regular appropriations bills on time. The usual solution is to approve “continuing resolutions” that let agencies keep going at current spending levels.
Trying to eliminate the risk of a shutdown could create persistent new troubles, however.
“If funding for the previous year never actually expires, their motivation to pass an appropriations bill would be lower,” Goldwein said.