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Lots of legislation would deal with future shutdowns, but most of it DOA

Republicans and Democrats introduced at least 30 bills in January but most won’t go anywhere

Virginia Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine introduced multiple bills in January taking aim at government shutdowns. Virginia is home to the most government workers of any state in the country. (Sarah Silbiger/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Virginia Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine introduced multiple bills in January taking aim at government shutdowns. Virginia is home to the most government workers of any state in the country. (Sarah Silbiger/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Momentum built in Congress last month to address future government shutdowns, with lawmakers from both parties introducing at least 30 bills in January to curb the effects on government workers, create monetary disincentives for lawmakers and administration appointees to let appropriations lapse, or, in some cases, eliminate the government shutdown altogether.

Illinois Democratic Rep. Bill Foster proposed a bill to prohibit House lawmakers from getting their pump on at the Capitol’s member-exclusive gym or grubbing at the Members’ Dining Room, both run by the Architect of the Capitol.

Colorado Republican Rep. Ken Buck introduced a bill that would block lawmakers from traveling on the taxpayer dime during a shutdown.

And after multiple airline customers reported sitting in security lines for hours in December and January, New York GOP Rep. John Katko offered up legislation that would pay Transportation Security Administration  employees during future spending lapses.

Also watch: ‘No one should ever underestimate the speaker’ — Democrats claim victory after shutdown agreement

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The historic 35-day shutdown that ran from before Christmas to late January so sickened some lawmakers that eight — including Republicans and Democrats in both chambers — introduced bills that would erase completely the possibility of a future shutdown.

Democratic Sens. Tim Kaine and Mark Warner of Virginia, whose state has the most government employees in the country, each introduced measures that would trigger automatic continuing resolutions for most most agencies in the event of a government funding lapse.

GOP Sens. Rob Portman of Ohio and Rand Paul of Kentucky filed similar legislation, along with four House members.

While bipartisan momentum might be building among the rank and file of each party to curb future shutdowns, leaders sent mixed signals about the glut of proposals in January.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi expressed openness to considering measures to prevent future government shutdowns but said those should not get pulled into the ongoing conference committee negotiations over the remaining fiscal 2019 appropriations bills.

“There’s so many possibilities on the table that I don’t think that should be part of this agreement,” she said Thursday.

Two of Pelosi’s underlings were more cynical about the 30 bills — none of which appear to be a priority in their respective committees, much less on the House floor.

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 last week.

Lowey said congressional appropriators shouldn’t need extra incentives to complete their work.

“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.”

One of the most popular shutdown-related bills in January — as popular as a measure that’s dead on arrival can be — was legislation introduced by Arizona Democratic Rep. Tom O’Halleran that would direct the Congressional Budget Office to submit daily reports during government shutdowns on the effects on the economy and how much it cost taxpayers.

“The American people are being undermined by partisan gridlock, and they deserve to know what it is costing our nation,” O’Halleran said in a statement last month.

Other bills introduced in January are aimed at reducing the financial burden on government employees instead of punishing lawmakers and administration officials for reaching timely appropriations deals.

Bills from Kaine and freshman Rep. Elaine Luria, a fellow Virginia Democrat, would allow qualified workers to dip into their federal savings plans without incurring the usual penalties.

Federal employees who are furloughed without pay could defer student loan payments to the Department of Education during shutdowns, according to a bill from Iowa Democratic Rep. Dave Loebsack.

Most of these measures will not become law. In fact, most will never even be discussed in the committees in which they were introduced.

In the last Congress, lawmakers introduced 18,732 bills. Just 2 percent — or 443, to be exact — were signed into law.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell hinted that he would be open to considering measures to help prevent future shutdowns, but the effort would have to be bipartisan. The Kentucky Republican did not elaborate on what kinds of proposals he would consider

“I don’t like shutdowns. I don’t think they work for anybody and I hope they will be avoided,” McConnell said.

Lindsey McPherson contributed to this report.

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