Rep. Dave Reichert (R-Wash.) has a novel idea for permanently preventing a government shutdown.
Reichert’s bill, the Preventing Government Shutdown Act, would keep the government operating forever even if Congress and the president never get around to agreeing on annual spending bills. Appropriations would be made automatically if Congress and the president fail to act, eliminating the need for stopgap spending bills and any risk of a government shutdown. Spending would be at the lowest of either the most recently passed bill or the levels in the House or Senate-passed bills for the new fiscal year.
Reichert understands, of course, that his bill is dead on arrival, but he said he wants to make a point given the potential for a shutdown showdown later this year between President Bush and the Democrats over the $22 billion in additional lucre Democrats want to spend above Bush’s requests.
“You can see this train coming down the tracks,” said Reichert, who said he wants to make it clear with his bill that Democrats have it in their power to prevent any shutdown.
“The point is that debate and discussion should be about the budget and spending,” he said. “I think there will be a lot of discussion and posturing about a shutdown. … The American people don’t want to see us debate a government shutdown or no shutdown. They want to see us debate spending and priorities.”
If there is a major debate over a shutdown, Reichert said, people will say, “Here we go again, politics as usual in Washington, D.C.”
Reichert said Republicans erred in 1995 by instigating a government shutdown in their battle with President Bill Clinton, saying they should have instead focused the debate on specific spending proposals.
Kirstin Brost, spokeswoman for the House Appropriations Committee, dismissed Reichert’s bill as well as the prospects for a shutdown this fall.
“Democrats aren’t going to let a government shutdown happen,” she said. “The Constitution gives Congress the power of the purse. This bill would allow our government to run on autopilot — giving folks an out if they don’t want to do the work and make the tough choices necessary to keep the government running.”
Democrats haven’t yet decided on the exact outline of their own stopgap continuing resolution other than that they will have one, keeping the government running past Sept. 30. It’s likely to last until November, possibly until Thanksgiving, when Democratic leaders have at least a hope of adjourning for the year.
What is less clear is what riders Democrats will try to attach to the CR train beyond the usual extenders of expiring authorizing provisions like the State Children’s Health Insurance Program.
Attaching anything significant could prod veto threats from the White House and shutdown talk.
“At this point there is nothing interesting about the CR,” said one House Democratic staffer.