Rob Portman column: End government shutdowns for good

Let’s shut down government shutdowns.

They don’t work for anyone. Even the threat of government shutdowns hurts the economy, and when you look back historically, government shutdowns don’t save money for hard-working taxpayers; they cost taxpayers more.

Every year, Congress is supposed to pass 12 spending bills, which fund different parts of the government and provide annual oversight of the agencies and departments. When Congress doesn’t do that on time, Congress either passes a stopgap spending measure called a Continuing Resolution that mostly just continues the policies of spending from the past year, or some parts of the government left unfunded shut down.

Lately, not passing any or all of the 12 spending bills has been happening so often it’s embarrassing. In fact, of the 60 required funding bills over the last five years, both chambers of Congress have managed to pass exactly two that were signed into law. Now, some have been bundled together into mega-spending bills called omnibus spending bills, but that’s no way to govern either, because mega-bills tend to be last minute and don’t allow the needed debate and amendments on individual spending bills.

Why has the system broken down? The short answer is that Democrats and Republicans can’t agree. We’re a big, diverse country, and that’s a good thing. We have our policy disagreements, and that’s fine, but for the sake of the country we have to figure out how to find common ground on these individual spending bills.

The result is that Congress typically lurches from one crisis of its own making to another in a cycle of squabbling, short-term continuing resolutions to avoid government shutdowns, and more squabbling. And the deals that often come out of these situations to avoid shutdowns are rarely good for taxpayers. They tend to be rushed through under pressure without the opportunity for lawmakers to study them in detail. They often contain giveaways to get votes and lack the thoughtful planning and agency oversight that ensures our taxpayer dollars are well spent.

And it might surprise you to know that, when shutdowns occur, they usually waste our taxpayer dollars. That’s because a shutdown is not a spending cut. Usually it just means a spending delay, and a lot of inefficiency, disrupting federal programs, projects, and investments, only to restart them again soon. The uncertainty caused by the last government shutdown, in 2013, for example, has been estimated to cost us an estimated $20 billion at a time when so many families are struggling to get by.

Of course, for federal employees and their families, the prospect of a shutdown can lead to some sleepless nights. If you’re a park ranger in Ohio and the government shuts down, you don’t know when your next paycheck is coming in. Or if you’re one of Ohio’s manufacturers who helps build tanks for our troops, you might have to bring a project to a halt.

Some in Congress like to use a potential government shutdown as a bargaining chip. But those misguided tactics always fail, and they do real damage to our political system. The most recent one, in 2013, sent congressional approval ratings plummeting below 10 percent, low even for Congress!

For all of these reasons, I believe it’s about time that we take action to stop the threat of government shutdowns.

That’s why I’ve introduced legislation called the End Government Shutdowns Act that would do just that. It’s pretty simple. Under my bill, if Congress failed to pass funding for any part of the government by the end of the fiscal year, then funding would continue at the same levels for four months. That would give lawmakers more time to think through and negotiate next year’s spending levels rather than panicking or making hasty back-room deals.

But, with my legislation, there would still be deadlines with consequences. If Congress still couldn’t pass funding bills after those four months were over, then spending would get cut by one percent. Then there would be a one percent cut in spending every three months until Congress does its job.

I wish this legislation to stop government shutdowns wasn’t needed. But as we’ve seen in recent years, it is necessary and it would benefit our economy.

Government shutdowns waste taxpayer dollars, hurt faith in our democracy, and only lead to more unnecessary partisanship. The End Government Shutdown Act would finally end governing by crisis for good.
Rob Portman is a United States senator from Ohio. You may contact him through his website:


Rob Portman

Guest columnist