Senator Lankford Takes to the Senate Floor to Push for Solution to Keep Congress Working Instead of Shutting Down the Government
CLICK HERE to watch Lankford’s speech on the Senate floor.
WASHINGTON, DC – Senator James Lankford (R-OK) today spoke on the Senate floor to provide an update on his bill to prevent future government shutdowns as the November 21 funding deadline approaches. Congress is expected to delay the funding deadline until December 20, but the threat of another shutdown provides an opportunity for Lankford to push for real solutions to stop government shutdowns from impacting Americans and federal employees and hold Congress responsible. Earlier this year, Lankford and Senator Maggie Hassan (D-NH) introduced the Prevent Government Shutdowns Act after a 35-day shutdown, the longest in history.
The Prevent Government Shutdowns Act passed out of the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee (HSGAC) earlier this year. The bill is a simple bipartisan plan led by Lankford and Hassan that would require Members of Congress and their staff to stay in DC if all appropriations bills are not passed by both houses and signed by the President by the beginning of the fiscal year. Oklahoma is home to 45,868 federal employees. HSGAC Chairman Ron Johnson (R-WI) also penned an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal in support of the bill.
The last 40 years, we’ve had 21 government shutdowns, 21. Twenty-one times Congress and the President have not been able to agree or the Senate and the House have not been able to agree and so as a result of that, federal workers around the country face the consequences of Members of Congress not finding agreement.
So help me understand this. Twenty-one times in 40 years, federal workers that get up every single day and serve the American people and serve their neighbors, have faced the consequences of furloughs because Members of Congress could not come to a resolution. Now, it’s not that it’s gone unnoticed. For a decade or more, there have been solutions that have been proposed.
Ten years ago I had a proposal in the House—actually Rob Portman had a great proposal in the Senate at that same time—to be able to deal with government shutdowns. To say if we get to the end of the fiscal year, we’ll just have a continuing resolution, but then we’ll cut spending every few months to be able to press Congress to get their work. The problem was hardly anyone on the other side from my party agreed with that. We couldn’t get any bipartisan support for it. So my colleagues on the other side of the aisle proposed that if you get to the end of the fiscal year, you would have a continuing resolution and every couple of months, the spending would go up, and it would just continue to go up and up and up until it’s resolved. Well, they didn’t have anyone on my side of the aisle saying, ‘We’re not going to put in a mechanism that just increases spending over and over and over again without congressional involvement.’ So they got no bipartisan support.
There was an idea that was floated to say, ‘just cut the Members of Congress’ pay,’ but really it wasn’t cutting their pay, it was taking their pay and putting it in an escrow account and just kind of holding it for them, so that when everything was resolved, they would get all that money back. It really wasn’t a reduction in pay, it was kind of a shell game to be able to push those dollars off to another side and then get it all back later just to make it look like you got a cut in pay. But that hasn’t had wide support either. In fact, a lot of people just have real concerns about that because quite frankly, some Members of Congress are very wealthy. Some members are not. Some members don’t notice their Congressional pay. Some do. So, it’s kind of a disproportionate piece of leverage to be able to come resolve this. But what’s interesting is, in all of those proposals, it acknowledges one simple thing: This is a problem. It needs to be resolved. Federal workers are facing the consequences; Members of Congress are not.
So about five months ago, Maggie Hassan and I, as this chamber knows well, the Senator from New Hampshire, she and I started working together to say, ‘What is a nonpartisan, not just bipartisan, what is a nonpartisan way to be able to solve government shutdowns.’ And we had two very simple proposals. There’s two problems here. We need to solve federal workers getting hurt when there’s a shutdown, to make sure those families are not hurt. And the second thing is we want to actually get to appropriations, not continuing resolutions. Because when you do a continuing resolution for any length of time like what we’re in right now, we’re in our eighth week of a continuing resolution right now, when you do one that long, it hurts temporary workers that are federal workers. They’re laid off in the process, other folks are not. But many of these agencies need those temporary workers, and those temporary workers are counting on that salary. It hurts contracting, that everything can’t start in a continuing resolution. You have to wait until there’s real appropriations. So no new programs can start. You can’t stop old programs. You can’t do purchasing. So it creates this tremendous inefficiency in government. So our simple idea was this: Let’s find a way to be able to protect federal workers and get to appropriations. The solution we came up with is pretty straightforward. It is when we get to the end of the fiscal year, which right now is the first of October, if appropriations are not done, there’s a continuing resolution that kicks into effect to protect federal workers, but Members of Congress and our staff and the White House Office of Management and Budget, none of us can travel. And Members of Congress, we’re in continuous session seven days a week until we get appropriations done. And one more thing. We can’t move to other issues other than appropriations. We’re locked into that box.
So basically if your work is not done, we all have to stay until the work is done. Now I’ve had folks say that’s not really a big consequence. A lot of folks do that all over the country all the time. If at the end of their workday, their work is not done, they have to stay until they get it done. Small business owners know that full well. It’s not like you can punch a clock. If the work is not done in a small business, you stay until it actually gets done.
Well here’s the thing. Go back to last December, when the shutdown started last December, and we got to an impasse here between the House, the Senate, and the White House, Members of Congress and our staff all left and went home. Federal workers across the country all took a big, deep breath as they walked into the holidays because they were on furlough. But Members of this body walked out. That should never happen. Never.
So what Senator Hassan and I are proposing is something very simple. The pressure shouldn’t be on federal workers. They can’t vote to solve this. The pressure should be on us. And for everyone in this body that says, ‘I don’t like that kind of artificial pressure,’ well, why don’t you feel what it’s like to be a federal worker for a while. And those federal employees. They don’t like that pressure on them. So let’s flip it. Let’s put the pressure on us where it should be and get it off the folks where it should not be, and let’s stay until we get our work done.
This idea is overly simplistic, but what’s interesting is, for the first time in a decade, there is an idea that has bipartisan support. We have multiple members of this body that are looking at it, contemplating it, and then nodding their heads, saying, ‘I would rather the pressure be on us than be on federal worker families.’
Let’s solve this. We shouldn’t have government shutdowns. We should have arguments over debt and deficit. We should have arguments over the budget. That’s why people sent us here, to be able to solve how their money is going to be spent most efficiently and to be able to argue out about issues of debt and deficit. But in the meantime, why in the world would we want to hurt the very people that are serving their neighbors, that are federal employees around the country? Let’s keep them out of it. Let’s keep them out of it. Let’s keep them still serving their neighbors, and let’s keep the fight right here where it needs to be. Let us argue this out until we get it resolved. Let’s not quit until we resolve it. It’s a simple idea.
Senator Hassan and I actually believe it will work. In the decades to come, people will look back at the time when we used to have government shutdowns and will shake their head and say, ‘I can’t believe that there was a period of time in the federal government when they used to just shut down when they argue.’ Now we stay until we get the issue settled. Pretty straightforward idea, and I would hope that more of my colleagues would join us in this absolute commitment to solve this for future generations.