For far too long, Congress has relied on short term, stop-gap funding bills to keep the federal government open and running — and have done so when up against holidays and midnight deadlines.
Take the most recent continuous resolution: last month, as a member of the House of Representatives, I voted around 5:30 AM on a Friday morning against a massive spending bill that raises America’s deficit next year to about $1 trillion.
Yes, you read that right. While you and your family were sleeping, a handful of your duly-elected representatives were making deals in the middle of the night. For the last 40 years — but increasingly more so in the last decade — this has been and is the way Washington operates. It needs to end now.
Put simply, this is how it works: time is running out as Congress approaches a funding deadline. In exchange for their votes, appropriators demand more money for “insert name of pet project” and the spending bill balloons as more and more wish list items are added. Inevitably, one party demands more or they’ll threaten to walk from the deal.
A small leadership team from both sides then hammer out a deal behind closed doors — with Republicans agreeing to spend even more money America does not have, has to borrow to get, and cannot afford to pay back. This is what Washington did in February with its “debt junkie” spending bill and what it’s poised to do again this week.
Moreover, these last-minute side deals for unrelated, often deemed “must-pass” legislation, have no business being in a continuing resolution and should be voted on as stand-alone bills. But because of threatened government shutdown risks, the bulk of Congress is subject to the spending demands of the powerful few.
The party in power almost always loses in the game of shutdown politics, as it suggests the party does not know how to govern and does not deserve to govern. In the late-night rush to negotiate a deal, the powerbrokers eventually concede, bad policy is enacted, and Congress is pressured to vote for the deal to please some segment of their constituency. It’s a loss on both sides of the aisle.
Perhaps even worse, the country loses — big time — as bills are introduced and voted on before the public has time to digest them and submit their views to their elected officials. Transparency in government becomes nonexistent. And the deficit increases exponentially.
Let’s take a quick look at previous short-term continuous resolutions.
Remember the cromnibus back in 2013? At the time, the last-minute Christmas bill seemed monstrous with the approved $63 billion increase in spending authority over two years. That’s pocket change compared to the McConnell-Schumer Deal that passed last month and busted the discretionary budget spending caps by $296 billion over two years. All this adds up to trillions of dollars, and as a result of the February continuous resolution vote, deficits will blow through the $1 trillion mark annually and indefinitely.
While Congress seems hell-bent on passing unaffordable spending bills and adding trillions to America’s debt, eventually the gravy train is going to an end and become a train wreck because America simply can’t afford these expensive deals.
That’s why last week I introduced H.R. 5313: The End Federal Shutdowns Act. This legislation automatically requires continuity of spending at the previous year’s levels should Congress fail to pass spending bills on time. Hence, government shutdowns become a thing of the past.
The concept is simple: whatever the spending level was for the previous year becomes the spending level for such time as it takes Washington to pass legislation that changes priorities and reallocate different spending amounts. If this legislation were enacted, leadership of both parties would have no choice but to aggressively seek timely regular order agreement and passage of appropriations bills to achieve new funding and policy objectives. A flat-spending alternative would be a strong incentive for constructive compromise involving a majority of representatives.
Providing for an automatic continuous resolution should be the easiest vote most of us in Congress make this year. It provides stability for the federal government and prevents rank and file members from being held hostage to the demands of special interest groups, leadership, and powerful appropriators.
I’m urging my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to come together and do what’s right for the Congress and for the country. A vote for H.R. 5313 is common sense — something that seems to be lacking in Washington these days.
Let’s stop shutdown politics once and for all.
U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks is a Republican from Huntsville