A senator on the shortlist to be Mitt Romney’s potential running mate has introduced a bill intended to end the 11th-hour budget drama each year on the Hill.
Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) maintains that his End Government Shutdowns Act would prevent last-minute budget deals that might not be crafted in the best way to rein in out-of-control spending.
But it would also erase the black cloud that hangs over lawmakers and goads them into at least presenting budget proposals and meeting behind closed doors late into the night in an effort to avert a government shutdown.
The bill, introduced Wednesday and referred to the Appropriations Committee, would create an automatic continuing resolution for any regular appropriations bills and remove the threat of a government shutdown in the event of a congressional stalemate.
Conversely, in Newt Gingrich’s House of the 1990s, the speaker sought very public budget showdowns framed by the backdrop of a looming government shutdown.
“Despite repeated signs that Washington’s out-of-control spending threatens to bankrupt the country, Washington continues to be deadlocked about the budget debate,” Portman said.
“Although Congress continually fails to pass appropriations bills by the Oct. 1 deadline, we should not force Americans to face the threat of government shutdown hanging over their heads,” he added.
Portman, former Office of Management and Budget director and U.S. Trade Representative under President George W. Bush, has 21 co-sponsors on the bill, including Democrat Jon Tester (Mont.).
If he’s brought on the Romney ticket, it will be because the freshman member hails from a critical swing state and is also regarded as a “safe” choice who won’t rock any boats. His odds on InTrade today are 30 percent, leading the pack of potential picks.
But will his bill be seen as making the budget deadlines softer for legislators and basically letting them off the hook for reaching agreements in time, or as a measure that creates more stability for government agencies and the citizens who depend on their services?
Portman argues that it’s basically impossible to get the budget through on time, anyway, hence there’s a need to cut back on needless and potentially harmful drama.
Since 1997, Congress has failed to pass a regular appropriations bill by the Oct. 1 deadline. The rushed budget agreements reached in the midnight hour, threat of government shutdowns — including a near-miss last year — and unpredictability for government agencies would be addressed by Portman’s automatic continuing resolution.
After the first 120 days, CR funding would be reduced by 1 percentage point, and would continue to be reduced by that margin every 90 days. All discretionary spending is treated equally, the senator says, to “keep both sides eager to reach a final agreement in order to preserve their respective priorities.”
“Our legislation ensures the federal government continues to provide the necessary services to its citizens while protecting against the panic and pressure of last-minute budget deals, allowing Congress to make the decisions necessary to get Washington’s fiscal house back in order,” Portman said.
It’s similar to House legislation introduced last December by Rep. James Lankford (R-Okla.). The Government Shutdown Prevention Act of 2011 was unveiled as one of ten budget reforms in a set presented by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), who is one of 27 co-sponsors on Lankford’s bill.
“This legislation is about getting Congress to appropriately perform its most basic function,” said Lankford, “and that is ensuring funds are appropriated for government services.”
His legislation also automatically triggers a continuing resolution as a stopgap measure. This would be accompanied by an across-the-board 1 percent decrease to discretionary spending. To motivate lawmakers away from relying on additional continuing resolutions, another 1 percent spending cut would take place every three months until a long-term budget is complete.
Ryan said at the time of the bill’s introduction that “lurching from budget crisis to budget crisis is no way to govern.”
Despite the support for Lankford’s bill, the Portman bill flies in the face of the way things have been traditionally done in the House, especially when the grass-roots wants to see Republicans dig in their heels against Democratic spending plans even when threatened with shutdown.
Neither hub of the grass-roots is excited with the Portman proposition, though: RedState called it the “Kick-the-Can-Down-the-Road-Until-January Act,” while Daily Kos called it the “Norquist Wet Dream Act.”
Lawmakers backing the House and Senate bills, though, defend the measures as necessary to guard against rush deals and gaps in vital services.
“At the core of our budget deficit is a flawed budget process,” said Lankford.