Senator Lankford Urges Senate to Pass Government Shutdown Prevention Act

CLICK HERE to watch Lankford’s floor speech.

WASHINGTON, DC – Senator James Lankford (R-OK) today again rose on the Senate floor to urge his colleagues to pass his bipartisan Prevent Government Shutdowns Act. Lankford introduced the Prevent Government Shutdowns Act earlier this year with Senator Maggie Hassan (D-NH), and the bill passed the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee (HSGAC) in June. HSGAC Chairman Ron Johnson (R-WI) also recently penned an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal in support of the bill.

Lankford released an episode on The Breakdown with James Lankford on his bill. Lankford and Hassan wrote an opinion piece on their simple, bipartisan legislation in July.

Lankford is a member of the Senate HSGAC Committee.


Permanent Subcommittee for Investigations (PSI) just finished a major research project. I happen to sit on that Committee. The Committee’s led by Rob Portman, who has done a phenomenal job of trying to be able to pull all the information together to be able to study government shutdowns. The government shutdowns are not new to us, we hear about them a lot lately, but in the last 40 years, we’ve had 21 government shutdowns. Twenty-one. We’ve seen this issue over and over again, that when we get to a point of contention and argument, we end up shutting the government down to be able resolve it, so the point of discussion is not just here in DC, it’s all over the country. Well the question is, ‘How does that really affect the country and how does that affect the United States government?’

Well the basic study that PSI did to be able to go back and to be able to look at this was they found that the federal work force in the last shutdown lost 57,000 years of productivity, if you spread out all the federal workers that were furloughed, the time they were furloughed, and the time that was lost. The total economy lost about $11 billion in productivity during that time period, and the federal taxpayer lost right at $4 billion in lost money that’s just gone.

The cost of shutting the government down, the cost of reopening, the cost of paid during the furlough time periods when there weren’t actually people there, $4 billion lost to the taxpayer, but yet we’ll probably have another one at some point, and probably have another one, and it seems they just keep coming—21 of these in the last 40 years.

There’s a group of us that have continued to be able to push this. Rob Portman has done it for years, several others of us have worked on other projects to try to figure out how do we resolve this issue of government shutdowns. Maggie Hassan, Democratic colleague from New Hampshire, she and I started a year ago talking through, ‘How could we get to a bipartisan solution to ending government shutdowns,’ and we have a very unique proposal to be able to go with this.

It’s proposal’s not trying to be novel, it’s not trying to be cute, it’s trying to be able to solve the problem. Our issue is, we have very serious differences when we get to budget areas. It’s a trillion dollars in total spending that we’re talking about when we do the 12 appropriation bills. It’s no small amount of argument, but we should be able to resolve these things in a way that actually works and is effective.

So here’s our basic idea: The process works supposedly where you do a budget that determines an overarching number that everyone agrees to, this is what’s called, the top-line number, and then you take that top-line number and the House and the Senate and their Appropriations Committees, it gets broken up into twelve smaller bills, those are called the appropriation bills. Those twelve bills all have to be passed by the House, by the Senate, then they have to conference them together and get that finished by the end of the fiscal year. Sounds like a good theory. That was the plan at least that was made in 1974 when this was designed, but that plan that I just laid out has only worked four times since 1974.

So if you think every year the budget process didn’t work again, you are correct, it didn’t work again. It’s only worked four times since 1974. So what Maggie Hassan and I would like to insert into this process is the ability to be able to have serious hard debate on difficult financial issues where we have disagreements, but contain the fight to Washington, DC, to do two things: Make sure we get to the appropriation process and it’s done well and to hold the federal workers and federal families and the rest of the country harmless as we argue through this.

So here’s the simple idea: If we get to the end of the fiscal year, if we do not have any one of those 12 appropriation bills done and which should have all twelve of them done, but if even one is undone, when we get to the end of the fiscal year, there is a continuation of spending exactly as it was the year before, it just continues to run the same as it was before so that federal agencies, federal workers would continue to operate as they normally do, but because there’s not an appropriation bill done for the next year, while federal workers are being held harmless and agencies are being held harmless, Members of Congress and our staff and the Office of Management Budget of the White House would lose all travel ability. We would have no official travel ability at all. Couldn’t go home and see our families, couldn’t travel on CODELS, couldn’t do other responsibilities. We’re here in Washington and we have session in the House and the Senate every day of the week—weekends, weekdays included. Literally it is the equivalent of when my brother and I would get into an argument when we were kids, which clearly didn’t happen often, but when it did happen, my mom would say to my brother and I, ‘The two of y’all go into one of your rooms, work this out. When you get it worked out, you can come out.’ That would basically put Washington, DC, inside the box. The rest of the country is not in it, but Washington, DC, would have to stay here, we would have to work out our differences, when it’s worked out, then we pass appropriation bills.

The other feature that’s added into it is we can’t move on to other things. We couldn’t just get distracted and say, ‘We’re just not going to do appropriation bills and just stay here and do other things,’ we have to do appropriation bills during that time period.

This simple idea though for most people I’ve talked to have said, ‘That’s too simple, that will never work.’ As I’ve talked to my colleagues in the House and the Senate, just about all of them have cringed when I’ve said, ‘We’re gonna be here weekdays, weekends, keep going on one topic until we finish that one topic.’ It is our constitutional responsibility to be able to take care of the American people’s tax dollars and to make sure it’s done correctly. We can move on to other things when we do our constitutional responsibility in that. Just about everyone I’ve talked to said, ‘That’s an idea that I could vote for that I could support.’

I bring it up to this body to tell people we’re still negotiating the final language of this bill. If there is an idea that people have to say, ‘I have one thing to be able to ask about it,’ bring it. If you have one thing to suggest to be able to change in it, bring it. But in the next few weeks before we get to the November 21 deadline, which is the new deadline now for spending, before we get to that spot, I want this issue resolved. I want government shutdowns off the table. I never want to see on any of the news channels ever again the countdown clock to when the government shuts. That hurts the American people, it hurts American companies, and it certainly hurts the federal families that go on furlough during that time period. Let’s keep us in the ring boxing it out, and let’s keep everyone else harmless as we go through the process. And I’d encourage my colleagues to bring their ideas, and let’s get this resolved in the next few weeks.