Weekly Columns

If there is one thing to take away from the recent partial shutdown it is this—governing by crisis does not work.

This was the third time since I was elected to the Senate that all or part of the federal government closed for a period of time as a result of a funding lapse. With this most recent partial shutdown, some agencies were funded months prior to the end of the fiscal year, while others were first funded on a short-term basis before being shut down in the absence of a larger funding agreement. This gave the impression that it wasn’t a true shutdown in the sense that only a part of the government wasn’t operating, which led to a lack of urgency on the part of some to resolve the differences that had led us to that point.

Despite being a partial shutdown, the list of affected Americans and Arkansans was long. Hundreds of thousands of federal employees missed paychecks, farmers and ranchers with loans from the Department of Agriculture faced financial difficulties and Transportation Security Administration agents who, forced to work without pay, were increasingly calling out of work raising serious security concerns. That’s just a sample of how widely the impact was felt.  

Clearly, this is not the way we should be governing. In each of the government shutdowns during my time in the Senate, neither side got what they wanted in the end. Taking this approach does not benefit anybody. 

The best thing we could do to end this self-defeating cycle would be to return regular order to the annual appropriations process. By passing all 12 individual spending bills each year, we would avoid shutdowns while putting the nation back on a path to fiscal responsibility. Departments and agencies should not be forced to operate without knowing what resources they will have at their disposal. It is incredibly inefficient, shortsighted and neglectful of the current concerns and needs of the American people. 

While we have made progress on this front in recent years, we are still falling short of completing all 12 spending bills before the end of the fiscal year. That is why I support my colleague Senator Rob Portman’s bill, the End Government Shutdowns Act, as a failsafe to prevent crises caused by lapses in funding.

The End Government Shutdowns Act would create an automatic continuing resolution (CR) for any regular appropriations bill or existing CR when Congress and the administration reach an impasse at the end of the fiscal year. After the first 120 days, CR funding would be reduced by one percent and would be reduced by one percent again every 90 days thereafter until Congress and the president can reach an agreement that completes the annual appropriations process. This allows the federal government to remain open when budget negotiations falter before key spending deadlines.  

Passage of this bill would remove the ability to weaponize a government shutdown. It will ensure that federal employees, and others whose livelihoods depend on a fully operating government, are not subjected to unnecessary financial burdens because Congress and the president fail to do their jobs.

The American public has lost faith in our institutions. Failing to learn the right lessons from unsuccessful approaches further erodes that trust. It is vital that we operate in a manner that restores the public’s confidence in Washington. Ending the threat of government shutdowns is a good place to start.