Congress Seeks to Stop Congress From Shutting Down Government

A recurring farce that does real damage.

NBC (“Senate reaches deal to avoid government shutdown, Schumer announces“):

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Wednesday that senators have reached a deal on a stopgap government funding measure to prevent a shutdown.

“We are ready to move forward,” Schumer, D-N.Y., said on the Senate floor. “We have an agreement on … the continuing resolution to prevent a government shutdown, and we should be voting on that tomorrow morning.”

If the bill is not enacted, the federal government would face a shutdown after the calendar turns to Friday. The deal announced by Schumer would keep the government open through Dec. 3.

The deal would, for now, sidestep shenanigans over the debt limit:

The House passed a government funding bill last week on a party-line vote of 220-211.

The Senate blocked the House bill in a procedural vote Monday. Republicans opposed the bill because it included an extension of the debt ceiling, which for political reasons they want to force Democrats to approve on their own.

The Senate’s resolution does not include the debt limit increase. It does include, however, money to resettle Afghan refugees and disaster aid for victims of Hurricane Ida.

But we’re not out of the woods yet:

Another potential sticking point remains. Republican are pushing to include money for the Iron Dome, Israel’s military defense system. The funding was stripped out of the House bill because of opposition from progressives. The House passed a separate defense bill that included the Iron Dome money last week with overwhelming support, 420-9. But now, Republicans want the government funding bill to include Iron Dome, which could cause problems when it goes back to the House.

This, at least, is a legitimate standoff on a matter of public policy, whereas the debt ceiling is an artificial barrier and continually using that vote to either gain leverage or simply try to score partisan points is indefensible. But, of course, government shutdowns themselves are unnecessary and idiotic.

Even in cases where actual policy issues are at the heart of a budget impasse, there’s simply no reason not to continue to fund the government through continuing resolution until the differences are resolved. Shutdowns are incredibly wasteful and actually cost the taxpayers additional money in exchange for less workforce productivity. And they only exist because of a Carter-era reinterpretation of the Anti-Deficiency Act.

As WaPo’s Joe Davidson notes, some are trying to change that.

Even the threat of a shutdown, such as the one we’re facing this week, has significant consequences.

“It creates chaos in every agency. Every agency has to stop what they’re doing in their leadership office and plan” to close down major operations, said Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) in an interview. “It distracts every agency and the individuals within the agencies as they’re trying to get their work done.”

That’s why he’s partnered with Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) to sponsor legislation designed to prevent shutdowns.

Since 2019, they have repeatedly pushed bills that would automatically impose temporary funding measures, known as continuing resolutions, to counter the inability of legislators to pass budgets, their most basic responsibility.

The legislation would make life difficult for members of Congress by essentially forcing them to stay in Washington until they fund the government. While the temporary funding is in place and until regular funding is approved, they would be forced to show up to the Capitol, with attendance taken daily, including weekends. No taxpayer funds could be used for travel, except for one flight to return to Capitol Hill for work. That would apply to members of the House and Senate, and their staffs, as well as White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) officials.

“If you get to the end of the budget year and the appropriations work is not done, we have mandatory quorum calls in this body at noon every single day, seven days a week until we get all the appropriation work done,” Lankford proposed in a 2020 speech to colleagues.”None of us can travel. We all stay here in D.C. We want to be home. We want to be able to meet with our constituents. We want to take care of the practical needs that are there. The way to do that is get our work done here.”

Their bill won’t become law in time to prevent a potential shutdown this year. Even if the Senate adopted it this week, it hasn’t been introduced in the House. So here we are again, teetering on the brink of another partial collapse.

Legislators and White House officials expect Congress to keep the government open with temporary funding, but OMB has told federal agencies to prepare to halt operations just in case.

“Consistent with longstanding practice across multiple Administrations, OMB is preparing for any contingency, and determinations about specific programs are being actively reviewed by agencies,” OMB spokesperson Abdullah Hasan said in an email. “More importantly, there is enough time for Congress to prevent a lapse in appropriations, and we are confident they will do so.

Congress probably will prevent that lapse by approving temporary funding.

That’s only better than nothing.

Max Stier, the president and CEO of Partnership for Public Service, said continuing resolutions are like buying one slice of bread at a time instead of the whole loaf. “It’s going to cost you a ton more,” he said, “and you’re not going to be able to actually plan ahead.”

During the four decades since the Carter administration, “there have been 21 shutdowns of a day or longer …” according to Stier’s group. The longest, which started in December 2018 and went into January 2019, was 35 days. It “dramatically disrupted numerous government functions and created long-term adverse consequences for federal agencies and its workforce, the private sector, the economy and more,” the PPS reported. There have been many more times when agencies had to disrupt work to plan for shutdowns that were narrowly averted.

Since starting my current job eight years ago, we’ve planned for at least a dozen shutdowns and actually gone through two of them. Because Congress tends to pass emergency funding for Defense even when it’s dickering over the others, I’ve tended to miss very little time in these things. Regardless, though, we spend an inordinate time planning for these even when they are averted at the 11th hour. And, if Schumer’s compromise does pass, it just kicks the can down the road to December, when we’ll likely have to play this game again.

For perfectly good and understandable reasons, our organization does everything it can to keep the operation running through shutdowns. In 2013, the most impactful of the shutdowns since I started, we were in the middle of a block of instruction being taught by civilian PhDs like myself. The plan, which we had to execute, was to simply shift lessons and exercises being taught by our military faculty to the left.

That was great for mission fulfillment and makes sense short term, I’ve been arguing for awhile now that we should do the opposite: simply close the school during shutdowns. If half the faculty is furloughed because we’re deemed non-essential to the mission, then don’t execute that half of the mission until the shutdown ends. If that means students don’t fulfill their master’s degree requirements for the year, then it sends a pretty strong message to Congress that shutdowns have consequences. Conversely, rejiggering the schedule to “make it work” sends the opposite message.

FILED UNDER: Congress, Government, US Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Sleeping Dog says:

    The Iron Dome funding shouldn’t be an issue as it will pass comfortably as standalone legislation. Progressive opposition was performative.

    But it would surely be nice if we elected a government rather than an aged student council.

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  2. wr says:

    “If that means students don’t fulfill their master’s degree requirements for the year, then it sends a pretty strong message to Congress that shutdowns have consequences.”

    The trouble with sending that message is that the people who are going to care about it already care and the ones who don’t never will.

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  3. Jay L Gischer says:

    @Sleeping Dog: I kind of disagree with “progressive opposition was performative”. They didn’t want to vote for it, regardless of whether it will pass or not. I think that’s got to be OK. What’s performative is if you say NO, but vote YES. What’s performative is if you get yourself vaccinated by are loud and proud on the “NO MANDATES!”.

    Well, for instance Joe Manchin is being VERY performative. He’s being very loud on the “LOWER DEFICITS!!! LESS SPENDING!!!” thing right now, but I think he will get to a bill he can vote on.

    In some respects, politics is always performative, and it has been since at least the time of Andrew Jackson.

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  4. Andy says:

    The idea that Congress should abdicate one of its primary functions by enabling automatic spending is a terrible idea. Congress has abdicated too much of its responsibility already.

    And the idea of “forcing” Congress to act by keeping them in Washington and taking daily attendance just shows what a shit-show this whole thing is. That’s the kind of strategy that frustrated parents might use to make an uncooperative teenager clean his room (Jimmy, you get no dinner or video games and you can’t come out until this room is clean!), yet here it is, being taken as a serious proposal for governing the legislative branch of the most powerful country on earth. What fucking joke.

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  5. Andy says:

    If that means students don’t fulfill their master’s degree requirements for the year, then it sends a pretty strong message to Congress that shutdowns have consequences.

    Sorry, but Congress doesn’t give a rat’s ass about military masters degree students. And you know how military promotions work as well as I do – when a rater looks at someone’s record and sees that their master’s degree wasn’t completed on time, that’s not going to be a good look even if it was out of their control.

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  6. Kathy says:

    Brinkmanship might be interesting to read about, and fun in fictional drama, but it’s not good governance.

    It also gets dull with repetition.

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  7. Gustopher says:

    @Andy:

    The idea that Congress should abdicate one of its primary functions by enabling automatic spending is a terrible idea. Congress has abdicated too much of its responsibility already.

    Heaping responsibilities on someone who has shown no ability to do them will not make them suddenly more responsible. Yes, congress should be able to do these things, but until they demonstrate that they can, I would not be opposed to eliminating the debt ceiling, and making continuing resolutions continue forever.

    Ideally, we would not have a congress with the collective ability of toddlers, but until half the country decides to stop electing toddlers based on their ability to shout the loudest… we are where we are.

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  8. Jay L Gischer says:

    We used to see this sort of thing every year in the California Legislature. Because, you see, Prop 13 requires a supermajority (60 percent) to pass budgets. So the minority (Republicans) would hold out to try and get a better deal, and we’d have state shutdowns every year there for a while.

    This stopped when the D’s got a supermajority in both houses. Not because anyone decided it was a bad idea. It’s one of the many reasons I despise Prop 13, even though I can see the motivation for it.

    Anything but a simple majority for fiscal matters – things which keep everything running – is dumb. It’s bad enough that there are two houses and a President all of whom have to agree.

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  9. Jay L Gischer says:

    @Andy: I get the feeling you’re going for but you’re leaving out the part where Jimmy has stolen the car keys and the wallets of everyone else and locked himself in his room, so nobody can do anything unless they do what Jimmy says.

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  10. Andy says:

    @Gustopher:

    Heaping responsibilities on someone who has shown no ability to do them will not make them suddenly more responsible. Yes, congress should be able to do these things, but until they demonstrate that they can, I would not be opposed to eliminating the debt ceiling, and making continuing resolutions continue forever.

    I disagree. The solution, if there is one, isn’t to make the Executive branch even more powerful than it already is and then hope Congress magically becomes more responsible at some point in the future. The power of the purse is the greatest tool they have – if Congress gives that up then effectively they become little more than a debating society.

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  11. Michael Reynolds says:

    The prog vote against Iron Dome is not just performative, it’s stupid and counter-productive.* If Hamas fires a missile that is not stopped by Iron Dome, but instead hits an Israeli village, the jets are scrambled and Gaza goes boom. Ditto Hezbollah and Lebanon. Less Iron Dome = More dead Palestinians.

    *Unless of course you’re the sort of progressive who doesn’t really give a rat’s ass about Palestine but will take any opportunity to harm Jews.

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  12. Gustopher says:

    @Michael Reynolds: Alternately, Iron Dome allows the Israelis to escape any form of accountability for conditions in the Palestinian ghettos/reservations by shielding them from blowback.

    If we wanted to reduce the number of dead Palestinians, we would install an additional Iron Dome in the Palestinian areas to go with the Israeli one, and then keep them both well supplied.

    While the Israeli government is pursuing a policy of perpetual apartheid, we should be wary of supporting them unconditionally.

    Israel has three plausible long term states:
    * A two-state solution (Israel has a right to exist, but so does Palestine)
    * Equality for the Palestinians (Israel is no longer a Jewish state)
    * Continued apartheid and oppression, forever (human rights violations out the wazoo)

    We should not be providing unconditional material support for the third option. Ideally we wouldn’t be supporting it at all, but opposing it, or tying aid to behavior such as getting rid of the settlements in the formerly Palestinian areas.

    And, Israel is wealthy enough to pay for their own defense.

    I would like to add a fourth option, where we give the Israelis one of our Dakotas (either one), and move the Wailing Wall, etc., but then would have to figure out what to do with our Spare Dakotans (leaving them to the mercy of the Israeli government seems like a bad idea, based on past behavior)

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  13. DrDaveT says:

    @Andy:

    The idea that Congress should abdicate one of its primary functions by enabling automatic spending is a terrible idea.

    I guess it’s a good thing that nobody is advocating that, then.

    Once again, to remind the viewers at home: the debt ceiling is not about spending. It is not, despite its name, a ceiling on debt. It’s about paying the bill for things we have already bought on credit. The personal finance analogy, for those who insist on one, would be if there were no limit on your credit card, but you had to get your bank’s explicit permission to write the check to pay the bill any time it went over a certain amount.

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  14. DrDaveT says:

    Republican are pushing to include money for the Iron Dome, Israel’s military defense system.

    I had assumed that this was money for the US to buy Iron Dome systems for use by US forces to protect US persons and property. The comments from @Michael Reynolds and @Gustopher seem to indicate that this is for deployment by Israel to protect Israel. That seems unlikely to me — Israel already has Iron Dome. They invented it.

    Can someone who knows more than is snippeted up above please clarify?

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  15. Mister Bluster says:

    Senate passes 9-week funding patch to thwart shutdown
    The Senate passed a stopgap spending bill Thursday afternoon that would prevent a government shutdown come midnight and punt the funding cliff into early December.
    The measure now lands in the House, which is expected to clear the bill for President Joe Biden’s signature with mere hours to spare before cash stops flowing to federal agencies.

    The continuing resolution would keep spending levels static for both the military and non-defense programs, buying Congress until Dec. 3 to either work out a broader deal on new funding totals or yet another temporary patch. The legislation would also provide $6.3 billion to help resettle Afghan allies who were evacuated during the U.S. withdrawal and nearly $29 billion in aid to communities recovering from major disasters this year, including Hurricane Ida in August.
    Politico

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  16. Stormy Dragon says:

    This, at least, is a legitimate standoff on a matter of public policy, whereas the debt ceiling is an artificial barrier and continually using that vote to either gain leverage or simply try to score partisan points is indefensible.

    Wanting to fund Iron Dome while simultaneously refusing to raise the debt ceiling to allow that funding to be disbursed is not “a legitimate standoff on a matter of public policy”, but rather a perfect symbol of how bad faith the Republicans are in their negotiations.

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  17. just nutha says:

    @Sleeping Dog: Oh hell, our student council was far more functional that what we’ve been seeing from Congress.
    […]

    Their bill won’t become law in time to prevent a potential shutdown this year.

    I don’t think this bill is likely to become law in time to prevent a potential shutdown in 2088, but maybe I have a jaundiced impression of Congress because I served on a functional student council in high school.

    If that means students don’t fulfill their master’s degree requirements for the year, then it sends a pretty strong message to Congress that shutdowns have consequences.

    And it’s also possible that you have a unduly rosy perspective on how obtuse, stubborn, partisan, and feckless Congress is.

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  18. Kathy says:

    1) Can’t Israel pay for its own defense?

    2) Much US foreign aid is paid to US defense contractors, who then sell weapons systems to other countries with the money the US government gave them.

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  19. just nutha says:

    @Gustopher: Can’t we move the Spare Dakotans to Other Dakota (as in not the Israeli one)? It’s not like either Dakota suffers from excessive population density or resource shortages (except to the extent that fracking has contaminated ground water reserves, but that’s a different issue).

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  20. just nutha says:

    @Mister Bluster: “And the beat goes on (yeah the beat goes on)/And the beat goes on (yeah, the beat goes on and on and on and on and…)” [fade out]

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  21. Mister Bluster says:

    @just nutha:..the beat goes on

    Nine weeks. So my FICA deposit for October will happen.
    November? Wait and see.

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  22. DrDaveT says:

    @Kathy:

    1) Can’t Israel pay for its own defense?

    See above — I thought that this was about the US buying Israeli hardware and software for US use, not about Israeli defense, paid for or not. Israel already has Iron Dome; they don’t need to get it from us.

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  23. Gustopher says:

    @just nutha: That seems like the obvious solution, but there might be deep resentments between Dakotans North and South that we non-Dakotans paper over and ignore.

    But I ask you: What’s the point of having two Dakotas unless we can donate one as needed? It’s like having two kidneys.

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  24. wr says:

    @Michael Reynolds: “**Unless of course you’re the sort of progressive who doesn’t really give a rat’s ass about Palestine but will take any opportunity to harm Jews.”

    Yes, because progressives are really all virulent anti-semites who claim to dislike the Israeli apartheid state and its corrupt leadership, but really we just want to bring back Auschwitz. Thank you so much for this illuminating and non-prejudicial comment that reveals the truth that so many evil people try to hide.

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  25. wr says:

    @Gustopher: “I would like to add a fourth option, where we give the Israelis one of our Dakotas (either one), and move the Wailing Wall, etc., but then would have to figure out what to do with our Spare Dakotans”

    Horrible as Kristi Noem is, do we really want to trade her for Netanyahu? He’d be annexing the reservations within weeks.

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  26. wr says:

    @Gustopher: “What’s the point of having two Dakotas unless we can donate one as needed? It’s like having two kidneys.”

    Especially since the kidneys are where the body sends its toxic refuse for elimination.

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  27. Roger says:

    @DrDaveT:

    I thought that this was about the US buying Israeli hardware and software for US use, not about Israeli defense, paid for or not. Israel already has Iron Dome; they don’t need to get it from us.

    All I know is what I read in the papers, but based on reporting in the NY Times (https://www.nytimes.com/2021/09/23/us/politics/israel-iron-dome-congress.html) it seems that we’re preparing to give Israel money to replenish their defenses. Being completely ignorant on the topic, I have no idea whether or not that’s a good idea.

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  28. Mister Bluster says:

    @Mister Bluster:..Nine weeks.

    Clearly I can not count. I should get my Social Security deposits for October and November.

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  29. Andy says:

    @DrDaveT:

    I guess it’s a good thing that nobody is advocating that, then.

    Once again, to remind the viewers at home: the debt ceiling is not about spending.

    The proposal quoted in the WAPO piece is actually about spending to avoid CR’s, it’s not about the debt ceiling.

    That seems unlikely to me — Israel already has Iron Dome. They invented it.

    Can someone who knows more than is snippeted up above please clarify?

    Iron Dome is a joint Israel-US program. The funds in question ($1 billion) are to provide parts and missiles for Israel to replenish Israel’s Iron Dome systems after the conflict over the summer.

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  30. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Gustopher: Oh no. I disagree. A kidney is a lot more valuable than a Dakota. It’s not comparable at all.

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  31. Michael Reynolds says:

    @wr:
    If you don’t think there are anti-semites on the left you’re willfully blind. There are a hundred governments on earth worse than Israel’s, but all the focus is on the one nation that, coincidentally, is Jewish. We give money and weapons to Egypt, FFS, but all the focus is on Israel. We give money to Jordan, to Ethiopia and not a word from progressives. Not a word. Ever. You’re kidding yourself.

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  32. Gustopher says:

    @Michael Reynolds: Israel is the one that pretends to be a democracy, and which has lobbied to make support for them as American as Apple Pie, while interfering in American politics to support Republicans.

    It’s also in the news on a more frequent basis, and familiarity breeds nothing but contempt in this case.

    (Counterexample: After the bone saw incident, people were not pleased with the Saudis, or our support for the Saudis, but the House of Saud was smart enough to lie low until it mostly blew over)

    There are absolutely anti-Semites on the left. The BDS movement is chock full of them — let’s go with the 27% crazification factor as an estimate. But, that doesn’t mean that BDS is a bad idea, or that we should be supporting Israel just because the anti-semites are trying to knock them down.

    The status quo is is supporting Israel as they slide towards becoming a despot state — that’s not the Jewish homeland that most of us want to see. We have leverage, so we should use it. As a rule of thumb, we should always be tying foreign aid with human rights, unless we have other more pressing goals.

    (Also, the aid to Egypt comes from the Camp David accords, doesn’t it? Unless things have changed, we pay Egypt to not go to war with Israel)

    ——
    If the Israelis are not inclined to go with a spare Dakota, and want heat, how about a chunk of Texas? I know, their god granted them the land in the Middle East, but how much topsoil would we have to airlift to bring that land to Texas?

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  33. Gustopher says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker: Do you know how many kidneys we could get from the lesser Dakota if we started harvesting? Each Dakota is worth way more than a single kidney.

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  34. wr says:

    @Michael Reynolds: You threw out a cheap drive-by shot and you got a cheap drive-by response. If you were seriously concerned about anti-semitism, you might notice who is marching around chanting “Jews will not replace us.” But this great concern you have about anti-semitism, at least as expressed here, is really just another way for you to snipe at progressives. Let’s not pretend your little shot was anything but that.

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