Senate Shuts Down Bill Meant to Prevent Government Shutdowns

Samantha Flom
By Samantha Flom
October 25, 2023Congress
Senate Shuts Down Bill Meant to Prevent Government Shutdowns
The U.S. Capitol Building following passage in the House of a 45-day continuing resolution, in Washington, on Sept. 30, 2023. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

Legislation aimed at preventing future government shutdowns was rejected by the U.S. Senate on Oct. 25 as the chamber marched forward with consideration of an appropriations “minibus.”

The “Prevent Government Shutdowns Act” sought to provide for the automatic extension of government funding for 14 days—and additional 14-day periods, where necessary—in the event that Congress does not pass a budget on time.

The measure also would have required members of Congress to stay in Washington until a budget is passed, focusing only on passing spending bills, with limited exceptions.

“If we don’t finish our classwork, we have to stay after class. That’s all it is,” said Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.), who put forward the measure as an amendment to the proposed minibus comprising funding for military construction, and the departments of Veterans Affairs (VA), Transportation, Agriculture, and Housing and Urban Development.

“In the meantime, the government continues to run at the previous year’s levels,” he continued. “That way, federal workers are held harmless; the American people are held harmless. The pressure is on the people that it should be on—us.”

The bill, initially introduced in February 2019, was reintroduced in January by Mr. Lankford and Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) and boasted bipartisan support.

But Appropriations Committee Chair Patty Murray (D-Wash.) argued that the proposed amendment would put federal funding “on perpetual autopilot,” allowing Congress to shirk its responsibility to pass a budget on time.

“We need to get our jobs done,” Ms. Murray said. “We need to pass our appropriations bills—that is what we’re working on—not set ourselves on a path to endlessly kick the can down the road.”

Although a majority (56 members) of the chamber voted for the measure, the support fell short of the required 60-vote threshold to pass.

Other Amendments

Other revisions the Senate approved for the minibus included amendments barring the use of federal funds to impose COVID-19 mask mandates on publicly funded transportation, or to report veterans as mentally impaired without a supporting order from a judge.

The latter measure, proposed by Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.), slowed the advancement of the proposed minibus as the senator sought to secure a vote on it.

Last week, however, the Republican struck a deal with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) to alter the amendment’s text and allow the minibus to move forward in exchange for a vote.

Defending his amendment on the Senate floor, Mr. Kennedy noted that current VA policy is to report veterans who ask the department for help managing their financial affairs to the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS).

“And that veteran loses his firearm. He loses his firearm automatically—no due process; no questions asked,” he said.

“All our amendment would do would be to say the VA, just because you’ve asked for help with your money, cannot automatically take away your firearm and report you to NICS unless a judge has ruled that veteran is a danger to himself or to others,” he continued.

While Sen. Christopher Murray (D-Md.) pushed back, holding that the VA only reports those “judged to be mentally incapacitated,” his fellow Democrat Sen. Jon Tester of Montana rose to voice his support for the amendment.

“It is not right that a D.C. bureaucrat at the VA can take away a veteran’s legal right to their firearm simply because they need assistance managing their finances,” Mr. Tester said.

A slim majority later passed the amendment.

Moving Forward

For more than a month, Senate leadership has sought to advance the spending bills as a combined package.

That effort hit its first roadblock on Sept. 14, when Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) blocked an attempt to combine the bills via unanimous consent.

…However, after weeks of negotiations, a bipartisan agreement was struck on Oct. 24 to start considering roughly 40 amendments to the package.

Announcing the deal on the Senate floor, Ms. Murray said it had been reached “after many discussions with members on both sides of the aisle.”

Also noting the recent “dysfunction” on Capitol Hill amid the House’s speakership problems, Ms. Murray stressed the need to show the world that “U.S. leadership is still strong.”

“Our allies are watching; our adversaries are watching. We need to show them that we are still able to work together … solve problems and respond effectively to the challenges of this moment. And this is an important opportunity to do just that,” she said.

“By passing this package, we can continue moving on our appropriations process. And we can show that by working together in a bipartisan way, you can actually get things done in a divided Congress,” she added.

In recent years, amid increasing partisanship, Congress has resorted to combining all 12 of the mandatory appropriations bills into one massive omnibus bill passed under threat of government shutdown.

But omnibus bills have become increasingly unpopular.

Often crafted by a select few legislators from behind closed doors, they are also typically unveiled at the last minute before a shutdown deadline, giving other lawmakers—and the general public—limited time to scrutinize what they contain.

And wary Senate Republicans had warned that smaller omnibus bills would be drafted in much the same way.

Ms. Murray, however, contended that passing the minibus was the best way to avoid a larger omnibus down the road.

Congress has 23 days left to pass a budget and avoid a government shutdown.

With a House speaker finally in place, the pressure is on for both chambers to pass the necessary legislation before the deadline.

Lawrence Wilson contributed to this report.

From The Epoch Times

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