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Want to prevent government shutdowns? Make politicians suffer the consequences of their dysfunction

By: By Sen. James Lankford (R-OK) & Rep. Jodey Arrington (R-TX)

If a business owner fails to generate profits, they are forced to lay people off or shutter their business. If a family can’t pay their utility bill, their water shuts off. If a student doesn’t finish their schoolwork, they don’t get to enjoy recess.

In the real world, the people who fail to fulfill their responsibilities suffer the consequences themselves.

However, Congress plays by different rules. When Congress fails to pass our spending bills on time to fund the government, it’s the public, and particularly taxpayers and our men and women in uniform, who bear the greatest burden of unnecessary and irresponsible government shutdowns.

A few weeks ago, we saw this phenomenon unfold once again. Sept. 30, the ever-present shutdown deadline, fell on a Saturday this year. Interestingly, it seemed few people were serious about confronting the looming shutdown until Sept. 28, when it became apparent that 12 appropriations bills were not going to pass magically in the next 24 hours. Members realized they were about to miss family time, official travel, and other events over a protracted fight that would take weeks to resolve. Suddenly, folks who wouldn’t budge began to move toward the realization that a government shutdown not only hurts the country but infringes on their own personal plans.

The media refer to this as members smelling “jet fumes.” And it proves a point we’ve made for years: If you want to motivate members of Congress, take away their precious time with family and constituents when they fail to finish their work.

If you want to see a grumpy member of Congress, talk to them on a weekend when they are stuck in D.C., missing their child’s game or an engagement back in their home state. When you take away time, you have everyone’s undivided attention.

To command that attention, we have proposed several safeguards to prevent endless continuing resolutions. Our solutions include a quorum call vote seven days a week, preventing the use of federal or campaign funds for travel, and prohibiting either body from moving to any bill other than appropriations until the work is done and the government is funded.

Our bipartisan, bicameral Prevent Government Shutdowns Act would shift the pressure point from shutting down the government to shutting in the politicians — that way, lawmakers will feel the pain of their failure to do the most fundamental job of funding the federal government.

Americans and our national security should not be leveraged in a political fight. Shutdowns hurt our economy, cost taxpayers money, and bring tremendous inefficiency to every federal agency. The pressure resulting from a shutdown is ultimately borne by taxpayers and the military, not members of Congress. It is time to reverse that. The public should not suffer because of Congress’s inability to fund the government in a timely manner.

Appropriations bills allow us to fund our constitutional responsibilities “to provide for a common defense” and “to promote the general welfare of the public” and also to defund programs that are wasteful, unnecessary, and ineffective. But in the last decade, we haven’t seen a year when the appropriations process ran on schedule.

According to the Government Accountability Office, the process of setting a budget and completing all 12 appropriations bills by the end of the fiscal year has only worked three times in the last 47 years. Without question, our broken budget process has contributed to the exponential growth of the national debt in the past decades.

If you don’t follow federal budget history closely, you might not have known that the last time the U.S. was completely debt-free was under President Andrew Jackson. From the time of President Jackson to the beginning of President Ronald Reagan in 1981, the U.S. accumulated $1 trillion in national debt. Since 1981, we’ve accumulated $33 trillion. The problem is escalating quickly.

Absent a complete overhaul of our budget and spending process, which will require Herculean political will, we need our Prevent Government Shutdowns Act. Our bill will help Congress debate spending and revenue levels without dragging the public through another shutdown.

Any member of Congress who wants to get the appropriations process back on track should support our bill. Any member of Congress who has service members living in their state should support our bill for the sake of the families they represent. Any member of Congress who wants to have an honest debate on federal spending and the best use of tax dollars should support our bill.

There are no gimmicks, no tricks, and no partisanship in our bill. We just think that the United States Congress should exemplify the principles of personal responsibility, accountability, and stewardship. We owe our constituents that much.

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