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2 key Democrats against legislation using automatic CRs to prevent shutdowns

Democratic leaders say Congress should do its job and pass appropriations bills

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., opposes legislative proposals to use automatic continuing resolutions to prevent future government shutdowns. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., opposes legislative proposals to use automatic continuing resolutions to prevent future government shutdowns. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Updated 4:43 p.m. | House Democrats likely won’t take up legislation that would use automatic continuing resolutions to prevent future government shutdowns, after two key leaders came out against the idea Tuesday. 

House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, who controls the floor schedule, and Appropriations Chairwoman Nita M. Lowey, who leads the panel with jurisdiction over the matter, said they oppose measures triggering automatic CRs in the event of a government funding lapse. 

“I personally am reticent about automatic bills that in effect take Congress out of having to make decisions,” Hoyer told reporters. 

Watch: Trump warns of another shutdown if Congress doesn’t reach a new deal by Feb. 15

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Lowey had a similar rationale for opposing automatic CRs.

“Because we’re appropriators, we should get our work done,” the New York Democrat said. “If we come together and we can’t accomplish our goals, we should resign from the committee.”

Lawmakers in both chambers have floated a variety of proposals for preventing future shutdowns. 

Sen. Mark Warner has sponsored legislation to provide for automatic CRs in the event of a funding lapse, but with adjustments for inflation.

The Virginia Democrat’s measure would ensure all government agencies are funded, except for the legislative branch and the Executive Office of the President — an effort to force Congress and the president to quickly reach a broader funding agreement. 

Ohio Republican Sen. Rob Portman has also floated a bill that would create an automatic CR for any individual appropriations bill not signed into law before the Oct. 1 start of the fiscal year.  His measure provides for a gradual reduction in funding — 1 percent after the first 120 days of the fiscal year and every 90 days thereafter — if Congress does not pass a full-year appropriations measure to replace the automatic CR. 

“Frankly, I think there are a lot of Republicans that would like to run government like that for the next 10 years,” Hoyer said of Portman’s proposal. “I’m not a subscriber of that.”

Hoyer said one of his objectives for the 116th Congress is for the House to pass appropriations bills and send them to the Senate in a timely manner. The Maryland Democrat said he’s discussed that with Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard C. Shelby and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

“I’m hopeful that we can work together to get the appropriations process done in a timely fashion,” he said. 

Alternative proposals

Some of the legislative solutions members are proposing would not involve automatic CRs. 

On Tuesday, a group of freshman Democrats, led by Reps. Colin Allred of Texas, Elissa Slotkin of Michigan, Dean Phillips of Minnesota and Chrissy Houlahan of Pennsylvania, unveiled legislation that would transfer the financial hardship of shutdowns to executive branch officials and members of Congress. Under the measure, a government funding lapse would trigger an automatic 30-day CR. If funding is not restored within that time frame, member pay would be held in escrow or suspended, among other restrictions. 

Lowey dismissed the idea of withholding pay as “childish.”

Hoyer did not directly answer a question about whether he’d support legislation to deny lawmakers pay in the event of a shutdown.

“What we ought to do is deny shutdowns. That’s the option,” he said. 

The majority leader did, however, say he would be open to supporting some penalties for government shutdowns. 

“Yeah, I have some in mind,” Hoyer said. “I think asking people to work for free is un-American. And, I think, if you said that nobody had to work if the government were shut down for more than seven days, including holidays and Saturdays and Sundays, I think that would be quite a wake-up call for people.”

Under such a proposal, “there would be no penalty, there would be no adverse personnel action taken” for government employees who didn’t show up to work while they weren’t being paid, he said. “That, in and of itself, causes a problem because you have some people [who are] absolutely essential to keep the peace and good order in the country, which you need.”

As Hoyer talked to reporters about preventing future shutdowns, he consistently expressed hope that lawmakers and the president have learned their lesson and wouldn’t trigger another shutdown. He cited a comment from Tennessee GOP Sen. Lamar Alexander likening shutting down the government to using chemical warfare as tactics that should be avoided at all costs. 

In summing up how little he thinks of the tactic, Hoyer said: “Shutting down the government is cutting off your nose to spite your face.”

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