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Senator Lankford Discusses His Bipartisan Bill to Avert Government Shutdowns

CLICK HERE to watch Lankford floor speech. 

WASHINGTON, DC – Senator James Lankford (R-OK) today discussed on the Senate floor the need for Congress to take up his bipartisan Prevent Government Shutdown Act to avoid any needless future government shutdown drama, keep federal workers working, and ensure Congress and the White House remain at the negotiating table to resolve federal funding issues until the job is done. 

The Prevent Government Shutdowns Act is a simple, effective solution to government shutdowns that forces Congress to actually do the work. If the House, Senate, and White House fail to come to an agreement on full appropriations by the end of a fiscal year, the bill initiates an automatic Continuing Resolution (CR) that keeps federal workers paid and working while discontinuing all official congressional and White House travel until the government is fully funded, which keeps negotiators at the table to work out the final funding numbers. 

Lankford released a podcast on the Prevent Government Shutdowns Act last week. 


Mr. President, according to the Treasury, since 1960, Congress has acted 78 times to raise the debt ceiling. Let me run that past you again. Since 1960, we have had 78 debt ceiling increases. Under Republican presidents, Democratic presidents, Republican Congresses, Democratic Congresses, there has been a steady increase over and over again of the debt ceiling. Now the debt ceiling was originally designed to be able to provide a moment of fiscal restraint to Congress. A moment for Congress to look at the debt and determine, ‘do we want to increase debt again or how can we restrain ourselves?’ In fact, if you go back to post-World War II when that enormous debt left over after World War II, that was the triggering mechanism for them. Throughout the Korean War, for instance, they didn’t raise the debt ceiling. They found ways to find fiscal restraint because they had so much debt. That doesn’t even seem to be the conversation anymore. 

Now debt ceiling conversations are about what bill will we get it into to make sure that it passes, that we keep going. That moment of saying, ‘How can we deal with fiscal restraint,’ seems to be gone. Let me tell you how severe this has become. Right now, our current debt to GDP, that’s gross domestic product, our debt to gross domestic product is at 78 percent. That is an enormous number. That means if you take all of the American economy, every single person in the entire country, group it all together, what they pay, what they receive in pay, what they make, put it all together, it would take 78 percent of every single person in the country to be able to pay off our debt for an entire year. If we were to maintain that debt to GDP ratio at 78 percent, just not get worse than where we are at $22 trillion right now, if it were to just not get worse, we asked the Congressional Budget Office how much would we either have to raise in taxes or cut in spending each year to be able to not make it worse? The answer that came back from the Congressional Budget Office was $400 billion. But here’s the hard part about that. Not that $400 billion is not bad enough, we would have to cut or raise in taxes $400 billion every single year for 30 years in a row. Not the original $400 billion. A new $400 billion every year, 30 years in a row, just to keep us at a debt to GDP ratio of 78 percent. That’s not going to happen.

There is not the will in this Congress to reduce $400 billion in spending this year, much less to do it every single year for 30 years in a row. So my simple push is we have got to get to real conversation on what we’re going to do about our debt and how we’re going to respond to this, and I have committed around any kind of debt ceiling conversation that the conversation should not be about just raising it and going on, it should be, ‘How are we going to address our debt?’ I cannot support a debt ceiling that just raises debt ceiling without any consideration about what we’re going to do to actually pay off that debt or how we’re going to get on top of it. 

We have a broken process. We’re not dealing with debt when we talk about debt ceilings anymore, and we’re facing a September 30 deadline, and there is already this ongoing rumor and conversation around the hallways about, ‘could we have another government shutdown?’ In the last 40 years, we have had 21 government shutdowns. 21. Under Republican and Democratic presidents. Under Republican and Democratic Congresses. 21 government shutdowns. The one that happened earlier this year was the longest one in history, but that doesn’t mean it’s the longest one that will ever happen. There may be a longer one coming. The challenge is how do we solve this issue about debt and how do we deal with some of the simple processes like government shutdowns and how do we stop those? 

Government shutdowns actually cause more spending to happen because it costs so much to actually prepare for it. When it happens there is greater cost, and then when you are restarting, there is greater cost again, and all that just lost money, just a waste.

So Senator Maggie Hassan, Democratic Senator from New Hampshire, she and I have worked together to be able to put a simple proposal together to be able to stop government shutdowns. This is not rocket science on it. For most Americans, they can’t leave their work and walk away, especially if they are small business owners. They can’t walk away from their job unless the job is done. That’s just the nature of it. So our simple idea is this: If we get to October 1, which our fiscal year ends on September 30, if we get to October 1 and the work is not done on all the appropriation bills, we would have what’s called a ‘continuing resolution’ kick in. That is the funding continues to go the same as it did the year before. It’s just basically everything is on hold but still moving. That would protect federal workers and it would make sure federal workers and their families are not affected by government shutdown. It would protect the taxpayers to make sure they are not dealing with, ‘I can’t get a permit, I can’t get an answer on the phone from a government agency because there is a shutdown.’ So the federal workers and the American people would be held harmless in this, but members of Congress and our staff and the staff of the White House Office of Management and Budget in both the House and the Senate, we would all be here in Washington, DC, with no travel.

Now, that may not seem like a big issue. You may say, ‘So what?’ That means we’re in session every weekday, every weekend. You cannot leave to go back and see your family. You cannot do the work that has to be done in the state and that we have work to do in our states as well. You cannot go on any kind of CODEL travel. You cannot take any other travel of any sort, and every day we have what’s called a ‘mandatory quorum call’ here in the Senate, and they would also have it in the House, so we’re in session weekdays, weekends, continually, until the budget work is done. Now, again, I have had folks say, ‘Well, that doesn’t seem like that big of an incentive.’ I can assure you the most precious commodity to members of the House and the Senate and to our staff and the Office of Management and Budget is the same precious commodity every American has. It’s time. Time. If we lose time that we can’t do all of the other things we need to do until we get the budget work done, we will get the budget work done. Because there is a lot of things on our schedule, but our first priority should be the budget work that needs to be done. This puts us in a position to basically do what my mom did to my brother and I. When my brother and I had an argument, my mom would lock the two of us in a room and say, ‘You guys work this out, and when you’re done, you can come out of the room, but you guys keep talking until you settle it.’ Quite frankly, my mom would be a pretty good role model for this Congress. Lock us in the room, keep us debating until we solve it.

We had the longest shutdown in American history this past time, and it started right before Christmas. And do you know what the members of Congress did? Left. Left. Went home for Christmas, went away, while federal workers did not have their paychecks coming in. Members of Congress left town.

It’s as simple and straightforward as this: Federal workers should be held harmless. Members of Congress should be kept to stay and work it out. Senator Hassan and I continue to be able to work through this. We have gained wide bipartisan support. It went through the first of two committees—10 – two as it passed the committee. Now it has a second committee to be able to go through before it comes here. We want to be able to build bipartisan support to say, ‘We will have agreements on budget. We will have disagreements on spending. But we should keep debating until we solve it, but do not loop the federal workers and their families into this, and certainly do not harm the taxpayers in the process.’ We look forward to trying to get some things resolved in this place and to be able to keep the debate going this will we do. With that, Mr. President, I yield the floor.