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Senator Lankford Shares Story From Federal Employee on Impact of Government Shutdowns on Senate Floor

CLICK HERE to watch Lankford’s floor speech.

WASHINGTON, DC – Senator James Lankford (R-OK) today spoke on the Senate floor to continue to push for the Prevent Government Shutdowns Act, a bipartisan bill that Senator Maggie Hassan (D-NH) and he reintroduced today. Lankford is urging his colleagues to pass this commonsense legislation as the December 20 funding deadline is fast approaching. During his floor speech, he shared the story of a federal employee who approached him on the plane yesterday as he traveled to Washington, DC from Oklahoma. She thanked him for his work on the Prevent Government Shutdowns Act but stated that she is retiring because of continued funding uncertainty. The threat of a potential shutdown is damaging because it creates needless uncertainty in federal operations.

Lankford serves on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, Senate Appropriations Committee, and the Senate Finance Committee.


2019 is almost over, but there is a lot that still has to be done on this floor. A lot of bills have moved through this year. In fact, we have had 75 bills or 78 bills I should say, that have been signed into law this year so far. This year, as we worked through the process, we have had quite a few judges and nominations that the Senate has actually worked through. In fact, by the end of this week, we’ll have our 50th circuit court judge that will be finished this week. There’s a lot of engagement. But with a week and a half left and we’re still on this floor, we still have issues like the United States-Mexico-Canada Trade Agreement. That agreement, what’s called the USMCA, has been sitting over in the House for 14 months. It looks like the House is now going to take it up this week or next week. After 14 months of being there, we’re pleased to be able to see some movement there. We got to be able to see the final implementing language on that. 

The National Defense Authorization bill, we hope to be able to move. That’s been waiting for months and months and months. Under the capable leadership of Senator Inhofe as he tried to negotiate this with the House and to be able to get that done. Hopefully, that will get done either this week or next week, but it’s cramming into the end of the year.

We have 12 appropriations bills that are still unfinished, and we face a deadline on the 20th of December. Or we’ll run into another government shutdown, which brings me to a bill that Senator Hassan and I are dropping today, something that we have negotiated for months across party lines to be able to have a nonpartisan solution to how we can never discuss, ever again, government shutdowns.

This past week when I was flying up back to DC, back from home, on the plane as I was coming up, there was a federal employee that caught me in the aisle way of the plane and just said, ‘Hey, I hear you’re working on stopping government shutdowns. Thank you.’ Her next comment surprised me, though. She said she’s worked for a federal agency for years, that she’s retiring in January because she is so tired of constantly having to prep for, prepare for, get set for a government shutdown that may be pending in the days ahead. It’s worn her out. And someone who has great wisdom and experience in serving in one of our federal agencies is retiring in January and we’ll lose those years of experience because she’s tired of dealing with shutdowns. I don’t blame her, quite frankly, though I wish she wouldn’t leave. I don’t blame her because year after year we end up in this same conversation, ‘Are we going to have another shutdown?’ 

Federal families across the country, as we approach Christmas, it seems like every year are wondering if they’re about to be furloughed and won’t get a check soon. And federal agency leaders from those that are Senate-confirmed all the way through the process of leadership aren’t spending their time on vision-setting and on oversight. They’re spending their time in their office having to be able to figure out what to do in case there’s a government shutdown or working through the process of a continuing resolution because they only get funding a few days at a time.

 All of us know this is bad, but for years we’ve discussed ending government shutdowns but never done it. Senator Hassan and I have put together a nonpartisan bill that is a very straightforward approach that we bring to this body and to the House to say, ‘Let’s take government shutdowns off the table forever.’ Let’s make this so in the decades ahead we talk about the way-back days long ago when we used to have government shutdowns, as we have in this body now. We’ve had 21 government shutdowns in the last 40 years. Let’s talk about the days that used to happen that never happens again.

We have a very straightforward, simple solution. Our simple solution is if you get to the end of the funding cycle, at this point it would be on the 20th of December. If we get to the end of that time period, we have an automatic continuing resolution that kicks in so that federal families don’t feel the effect of that across the country. They’re not on furlough. But Members of Congress and our staff work seven days a week. We have a session here seven days a week, and we can’t move to bills other than appropriations for 30 days so that we are locked into settling the appropriations issue.

The simple resolution is if we get to the end of the fiscal year and our work is not done, we keep working until it is done. It’s not that hard. But we’ve never made the commitment to each other that we will stay here and continue the work until it’s done. What we’ve done instead is one of two things. Just punt a CR, a continuing resolution, for months at a time and say, ‘Okay, let’s get back to this in eight weeks,’ which is what we did before. And then before that, there was a four-week continuing resolution, so we just punt it out and say, ‘We’ll keep going and we’ll try to figure this out later,’ which puts a lot of chaos in agencies. Or we do a government shutdown while we argue. We go home, federal workers are on furlough. 

Let’s commit to each other we will never do that again. We will never put federal workers on furlough because we can’t resolve our differences. Let’s also commit to each other that when we get to the end of the fiscal year, we’ll resolve the problem right then. There’s nothing different from this week than there was seven weeks ago when we first started a continuing resolution. There’s nothing different about it other than we just decided to go and get it resolved. When we get to the end of this problem, this Congress needs a deadline to resolve it. Let’s make it and let’s make it very simple and straightforward. We will stay at it until we solve it. That’s our commitment and that we will hold federal workers harmless through that process. 

Senator Hassan and I have worked on this for months. We have three Republicans, three Democrats we’re all putting this in front of this body today. We have multiple folks that have contacted us and said they want to be added as cosponsors as soon as we drop it. Well, today is the day we introduce that bill and we would welcome any of the 100 of us to be able to join us in a nonpartisan bill to end government shutdowns forever. And let’s keep working until we solve the problem.