Lankford Wants to Take Government Shutdowns Off the Table By Putting Pressure on Congress, Not Americans
Lankford: “Why are we talking about the possibility of a government shutdown again when we could take that off the table forever?”
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WASHINGTON, DC – Senator James Lankford (R-OK) today provided an update on the Senate’s ongoing negotiations for the next phase of coronavirus economic relief and on the status of federal funding ahead of the September 30 deadline to avoid another government shutdown. Lankford said there’s no reason Congress should even be discussing a shutdown if the Senate had passed his bipartisan Prevent Government Shutdowns Act. Lankford’s bill would prevent a government-wide shutdown, continue critical services and operations for Americans, and hold federal workers harmless while Congress finishes its job. Lankford moved to place his bill directly on the legislative calendar for consideration by the full Senate in August.
Mr. President, here we are again. It’s late September, the budget work has not been completed yet. It seems terribly familiar to this body. And it's frustrating. It's not as if no one knew September was coming. It was on the calendar when I first looked at it in January of this year. September already existed on the calendar. It's not as if we didn't know what all the deadlines were. Everyone knew full well what all the deadlines were. Now, everyone can say it's the pandemic that slowed everything down, except the fact that all of the appropriations work could have already been done, and much of the committee work could have been done, was done some by the House, not completed, can be done by the Senate but was not. So here we are again watching the countdown clocks towards a government shutdown as we discuss what happens next, but things have been tied up even this week with getting what's called a Continuing Resolution. This body knows but others may not that a continuing resolution is literally just taking last year's appropriation bills, changing the dates, and moving it over to the new one. This particular continuing resolution stretches until December 11 where we would have to pick it up and pass more appropriations or another continuing resolution at that time.
The fight this week has been over whether we're going to support rural America and agriculture. The House originally drafted a Continuing Resolution that left out all the agriculture projects. The Senate obviously threw a fit over that and said, ‘Why are we supporting everything, including benefits to Sri Lanka that got added in to the House proposal for the Continue Resolution, but they wouldn't do American farmers?’ So in the back and forth conversation this week, the House had to extend and they did another day, and then they finally put the agriculture projects back in and still left in, by the way, benefits for Sri Lanka.
Our ongoing conversation continues though, about airlines. October 1, airlines across the country are going to lay off 100,000 people—100,000. We've asked for some engagement on the issue of these airlines. Back in the CARES Act in March, we gave an extension to those airline workers so that airline workers and the airlines can still stay connected to each other even in this down time. We're getting very close to a vaccine. It's like we can see the light on the other end of the tunnel, and it's not a train this time. It's actually light, and we're going to get through this pandemic. But for whatever reason, they refuse to be able to deal with the issue of how to help airline workers at all. Not even half of what was done in the past, not even a portion of what was done in the CARES Act. And it's been exceptionally frustrating. For the same issue with the House on not wanting to do anything on the Paycheck Protection Program, for the smallest businesses in America and nonprofits, they put out a multi-trillion-dollar proposal, out from the House and didn't even include anything for the small businesses. We've continued to ask, ‘How can we address the issue of small business here? How can we extend the Paycheck Protection Program and give a second round to the hardest hit businesses? We don't think it's that unreasonable. As we're nearing the end, we need to help them bridge the gap at this point.’ But for whatever reason it's not included either. As we work our way through this process.
Now I don't know what happens in the next few hours, as we deal with the Continuing Resolution that comes from the House. But there's no reason we should be talking about a government shutdown again. A year ago, Senator Hassan, the Democratic Senator from New Hampshire, she and I sat down to be able to talk through how can we end government shutdowns forever so that government workers across the DC region and across the country are not living in fear of a furlough, that Americans that want to be able to connect with different agencies are able to be able to do that at all times, but we're still able to have the arguments that are needed to be able to resolve budget issues. Because it may be surprising to some people across the country, Republicans and Democrats don't agree on everything on the budget. Shock, I know.
We should be able to have that fight, though, on budget, but it should not lead to a government shutdown in the process. Government shutdowns cost us money every time that it happens. So, Senator Hassan and I, our simple resolution, resolve the issue by just asking the one question: Who needs pressure applied to them to deal with the issue, and what is the pressure that needs to be applied? Our straightforward answer is: Members of Congress and our staff and the Office of Management and Budget and the White House should have the pressure applied to us to get it done. And the easiest way to apply pressure to all of us is take away our time. It's pretty straightforward.
Here’s our proposal. If you get to the end of the budget year and the appropriations work is not done, we have mandatory quorum calls in this body at noon every single day, seven days a week until we get all the appropriation work done. None of us can travel. We all stay here in DC. Now I would tell you I really want to see my family on the weekends. I also have people back in my state that I have appointments with that I need to be able to see, and I have responsibilities there. I want to get back to my state of Oklahoma and to be able to be with those folks. And I’m sure all of you would love to get back to Oklahoma, but you'll probably head back to your state instead. We want to be home. We want to be able to meet with our constituents. We want to take care of the practical needs that are there. The way to do that is get our work done here.
Now, I've had folks say take away everyone's money. Say no budget, no pay. It makes a great bumper sticker. The problem is, as many people in this body know, there are a lot of folks that are in this body that are multimillionaires, and if they were honest they would say their congressional salary is a rounding error to their investments every month. Good for you. But it's not a pressure point. Taking away your congressional salary is not an emphasis to actually get the work done. Taking away time is a way to be able to press people to get the work done.
So, Senator Hassan and I worked it through the committee process, passed it through the Homeland Security Committee, have set it up. It's already been ‘Rule 14’d’. It's on our calendar now. At any moment, we in this body could determine we're going to end government shutdowns. We will never have one again. If we get to the end of the fiscal year, a Continuing Resolution will kick in automatically, and we will all stay until we finish the negotiations for the appropriations work. However heated, however long that may take, we'll stay and finish it until it's done. It's the right thing for us to be able to do. It's the right way to handle it. And it's not pressure on the federal workers. The federal workers don't get the ability to make the decision here. And some people say, ‘Well, those folks in DC can just tough it out anyway.’ It's not just those folks in DC, though there are a lot of folks in DC that are working very hard for Americans all over the country.
In my state of Oklahoma, there's 4,300 federal employees just in my state that work in agriculture, that work in Housing and Urban Development, that work for the FAA, that work for all kinds of entities that take care of families in Oklahoma. They also deserve the privilege of continuing their service to their neighbors just as always while we're resolving our differences here. So my request is the same as it was last year. Why are we talking about the possibility of a government shutdown again when we could take that off the table forever? With a straightforward, bipartisan proposal that says, ‘We will never again have a government shutdown. We will work out our differences because we do have differences, but we will not hold federal workers hostage in the process. We will just stay and work out our differences.’
I look forward to seeing the vote on the Continuing Resolution and avoiding a shutdown again, but I look much more forward to never having shutdowns again when Senator Hassan’s and my bill is finally voted on and passed.
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