Q&A: Shut Down Government Shutdowns
With U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley
Q: What’s your position on government shutdowns?
A: One of the most fundamental constitutional responsibilities afforded to Congress is the power of the purse. That means lawmakers have the authority to raise and spend revenue to operate the government. The founders’ decision to assign this power closest to the people makes sense. That’s because the power of the ballot box holds lawmakers accountable to the people. Voters can hold elected representatives directly accountable for tax and spending decisions that impact their household budgets and pocketbooks. As a fiscal conservative and taxpayer watchdog, I work to ensure government serves the people as effectively and efficiently as possible. Through oversight, I work to wring out waste, fraud and abuse so that health, defense and education dollars are spent as intended, for example. Holding the purse strings, Congress writes laws to fund the government. The president keeps check on Congress by signing spending bills into law. The lion’s share of the federal budget is funded through 12 annual appropriations bills. Emergency spending, such as for natural disasters, is handled on an as-needed basis. The fiscal year starts Oct. 1. So if any of the dozen spending bills aren’t signed into law by Sept. 30, lawmakers and the president must agree on a temporary spending resolution to keep the government open for business. If that fails, the unfunded parts of government shut down. Throughout my years of public service, I’ve learned not to ignore history. No matter the subject, history teaches valuable lessons. Consider the 1996 government shutdown. Until recently, that 21-day government shutdown during the Clinton administration was the longest in history. It is arguably a teachable moment. Americans get fed up when government isn’t open for business. I certainly learned that lawmakers, federal workers, taxpayers and even the economy pay the price. Federal workers are put in a tough financial situation through no fault of their own. It costs taxpayers money to shut down the government and even more to re-open it. The bottom line is clear. Government serves the people. It can’t serve the people if it’s not open. More than two decades after the 1996 shutdown, Congress found itself having a “Groundhog Day” moment. Only this time, we surpassed the longest-ever government shutdown by two weeks. For 35 days, Americans woke up to a partial government shutdown that negatively impacted the services Americans expect from the IRS, USDA, National Parks, and more. Keep in mind that President Trump offered several proposals to negotiate in good-faith. He recognized the cardinal rule of bipartisan policymaking: each side gives and takes to build consensus and reach an agreement. That requires engagement at the table. Unfortunately, reaching an agreement won’t happen if one side remains close-minded. The refusal by Democrats to put an offer on the table that both sides could accept puts us back to square one. The American people, especially those who depend on the federal government for paychecks and public services, deserve better. It’s time to end government shutdowns forever.
Q: Why are you co-sponsoring the End Government Shutdowns Act?
A: Shutting down government is bad policy and bad politics. In case anyone forgets or chooses to ignore history, I’m working to cure the amnesia by putting an end to government shutdowns once and for all. That’s why I’ve joined Senator Rob Portman to introduce the End Government Shutdowns Act. It’s time to put government shutdowns in the rear view mirror. Our bill would create an automatic continuing resolution (CR) for any spending bill not completed by Sept. 30. Enactment of this legislation would keep the federal government open for business while budget negotiations continue. It would prevent policy stalemates and political interests from putting a chokehold on essential government services, wasting tax dollars and eroding the public trust. Not only would our bill trigger a continuing resolution, it also would create an incentive for lawmakers to negotiate and reach a consensus on unfinished spending bills. That’s because after 120 days, the CR funding would be reduced by one percent, followed by an additional one percent every 90 days thereafter, until Congress does its job and completes the annual appropriations work. Other legislative proposals that have been introduced to end government shutdowns would pilot the federal government on an automatic spending spree. That puts another fundamental constitutional responsibility – congressional oversight -- at risk. Don’t forget, the annual appropriations process empowers lawmakers to conduct oversight by going through federal ledgers every 12 months with a fine-toothed comb. Considering the size of the national debt and the scope of wasteful federal spending, I’m not willing to abdicate that responsibility. Passage of our End Government Shutdowns Act would take government shutdowns off the table, bring more certainty to the annual appropriations process and help restore the public trust in government.