Younger generations and new Americans could be forgiven for thinking that government shutdowns are a feature, not a bug, of the governing process in America.
For decades we have watched as Congress and the president careened from crisis to crisis, with spending out of control. And the way lawmakers spend our tax dollars has become a national joke.
But it wasn’t always like this, and it doesn’t have to be now.
Government shutdowns became a standard feature of the annual appropriations process only in 1980, after the Carter administration reinterpreted a 19th century law. Congress never intended for a failed appropriations process to result in a shutdown.
To fix this, the House of Representatives should immediately take up the bipartisan Prevent Government Shutdowns Act, which would provide for rolling automatic continuing resolutions to keep the government open while requiring Congress to stay in session until the regular spending bills are enacted.
For those who would be happy to see the government shut down if it meant some spending discipline could be applied, good luck. Treating shutdowns as leverage almost never works. A shutdown fight often results in hardship for ordinary Americans, but it has never resulted in a cut to government spending.
So, we know that shutdowns result in bad policy and bad budgeting. They’re bad politics, too.
Voters oppose shutdowns, even if it means getting policies they care about enacted (which it almost never does anyway).
Overhauling the budget and appropriations process should be a long-term goal. But Congress can act now to end the threat of government shutdowns.
When the latest crisis came to a head at the end of September, lawmakers wisely chose to fund the government rather than shut it down.
But that action did nothing to prevent the next showdown, coming in less than a month. And it actually exacerbated the booming spending and debt problem our country faces.
The past fiscal year’s deficit doubled from the previous year, $966 billion more than CBO projected when President Joe Biden took office. It’s the largest non-emergency deficit in the history of the country.
Interest rates remain near record highs; the 10-year Treasury yield is soaring. In a sad irony, interest costs are now the biggest drivers of increased government borrowing.
Inflation soared in 2022, eased a bit for a short time, but has now been ticking up again for the last two months.
The price of gas, groceries, and other necessities remains historically high, costing the average U.S. household an additional $955 this month, according to the Joint Economic Committee. That’s more than $11,000 a year just to maintain the same quality of life.
That comes at a time when Americans have seen three straight years of declining real incomes.
It’s little wonder that more than half of Americans say inflation, the economy, and Washington’s spending are their top concerns.
The supposed leverage of a government shutdown does nothing to address any of these problems. In many cases, the threat of a shutdown makes things worse by stymieing progress on other priorities, preventing lawmakers from tackling our country’s most pressing challenges.
We need to move away from governing by crisis and get back to Congress and the president working together to pass spending bills in an orderly fashion.
Funding the government is Congress’ most basic function, and it has been failing at it for two generations.
It’s past time for this nonsense to end and for Americans to get a government that works. Passing the Prevent Government Shutdowns Act would be one step in the right direction.
(*) Wadi Gaitan is director of communications at The LIBRE Initiative.