Members of Congress agree on one thing: They don’t want any more government shutdowns. They just can’t agree on how to stop them for good.
Ahead of Friday’s deadline to prevent a second government shutdown, a bipartisan group of lawmakers reached a tentative deal on border security that would include $1.375 billion for fencing – well below President Donald Trump’s demand for $5.7 billion funding for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Lawmakers have been eager to prevent a repeat of the longest shutdown in history that ended last month. The 35-day lapse brought hardship to 800,000 federal workerswho went unpaid for weeks. It also took a hefty financial toll on contractors and owners of small businesses such as restaurants and hair salons that rely on federal workers.
That has stirred renewed interest on Capitol Hill in legislation that would permanently avoid government shutdowns.
Sen. Johnny Isakson, a Georgia Republican, compared the sudden surge in support to the comic character Pogo.
“Remember when Pogo looked in the mirror and said: “The enemy was us’? That’s what has happened,” Isakson said.
The Georgia Republican has backed a bill being pushed by Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, that would end government shutdowns. If Congress couldn’t come to an agreement on spending bills for the following year, automatic spending at the current level would kick in. After four months, there would be a 1 percent reduction across the board. That would happen again every 90 days, with the aim of bringing pressure on lawmakers to reach a deal.
Portman has been pushing the bill for years, but lately, he said he senses greater momentum – at least for the broad idea.
“I’m very encouraged because I’ve never seen more support for ending shutdowns. It’s bipartisan now. Republicans and Democrats alike have learned from this last shutdown,” Portman told USA TODAY after the government reopened last month.
Including Portman, the bill now has 33 sponsors. So far, they’re all Republicans. That is problematic in a chamber that requires bipartisanship, and 60 votes, for legislation to move.
Democrats worry that fiscal hardliners would be content to allow reduced government spending over time.
“I think there are a lot of Republicans who would like to run government like that for the next 10 years,” said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland. “I’m not a subscriber of that.”
Portman has been talking with his colleague Sen. Mark Warner, a Democrat from Virginia, who also has a bill that would end government shutdowns. The pair are trying to find common ground.
Warner’s legislation would require automatic funding to kick in if Congress couldn’t come to a deal. If lawmakers remained at a standstill for a year, government funding would increase in line with growth in gross domestic product. That’s a non-starter for many Republicans who want to rein in government spending, not increase it.
But Warner said he doesn’t think an impasse would last that long. That’s because, under the legislation, while Congress negotiates, paychecks for the president, lawmakers and their immediate staff would be withheld.
A group of Democratic freshman introduced a similar measure that would keep the government operating at ongoing levels, while targeting just the executive branch and members of Congress as time goes on.
“If Congress and the president can’t agree on spending, the burden shouldn’t fall on federal workers and their families – it should fall on leaders in Washington,” Rep. Elissa Slotkin of Michigan said.
Source: Eliza Collins, USA TODAY
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