“It doesn’t have to be like this; the whims of House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and the Republican Party’s hard-core members don’t have to determine whether federal workers get paid or not. Instead, we could eliminate shutdowns altogether using something called an automatic CR.
Usually, when the federal government shuts down or is on the verge of shutting down, the issue is resolved in the short term by passing a “continuing resolution” (or CR): a bill saying, basically, that the government should stay the course and keep spending what it’s been spending, maybe give or take a few minor tweaks. In the average year, CRs fund the government for 137 out of 365 days.
By extension, we could eliminate government shutdowns forever by enacting an automatic CR: a law that says that in the event that Congress fails to authorize funding for the government, things will just keep going along the way they’ve been.”
“While controlling discretionary spending is important for fiscal responsibility, for reducing government waste, and for negotiating the proper size and scope of federal activities, the current shutdown debate is largely symbolic. America’s biggest fiscal challenge lies in the unchecked growth of federal health care and old-age entitlement programs. Repeated shutdown fights and a slew of temporary continuing resolutions have gotten us no closer to reforming Social Security and Medicare.”
“The longer Washington waits to fix autopilot spending, the more damage they’ll do. The Congressional Budget Office’s latest long-term budget outlook projects that U.S government spending will consume nearly 30 percent of the economy by 2053—almost 40 percent higher than the historical average. Congress is expected to rack up more than $100 trillion in additional deficits over those 30 years—more than four times what the U.S. government has borrowed over its entire history. Who will lend the U.S. government such vast sums?
The main drivers of this increase are heightened interest costs and the growth in health care and Social Security spending. With Medicare and Social Security responsible for 95 percent of long-term unfunded obligations, according to the Treasury Financial Report, there’s simply no way any serious fiscal reform effort can leave these programs untouched. Every other part of the budget will either stay steady or decline slightly. Other so-called mandatory programs, including various welfare programs, retirement benefits for federal employees, and some veterans’ benefits, are projected to decline as a share of the economy. Discretionary spending depends on what Congress decides to spend each year; if historical trends hold, this part of the budget will decline by one-sixth. And yet this is the part of the budget that all this shutdown fuss is about.”
“Fitch Ratings..downgraded the U.S. government’s credit rating due in part to Congress’ erosion in governance. Indeed, year after year, we see the same political theater unfold: last-minute deals, deficits, and, all too often, the passage of gigantic omnibus spending bills without proper scrutiny, along with repeated debt ceiling fights and threats of shutdown.
But these are just symptoms of a budget-making process that remains in desperate need of reform. With legislators chronically delinquent about following their own rules, the change may need to be as much cultural as procedural. No matter how good the rules are, they’re useless if politicians ignore them. And in a world where politicians are rarely told no when it comes to creating or expanding programs, most simply refuse to have their hands tied or behave as responsible stewards of your dollars.”
“What we need is a comprehensive budget process under which programs like Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid are no longer permitted to grow without meaningful oversight. Combined with other mandatory, more-or-less automatic spending items, they make up more than 70 percent of the budget. Thus, they must be included in the regular budget process and subjected to regular review. Only then will our elected representatives be forced to stop ignoring the side of the budget that requires their attention the most.”
“Enter a “Base Closure and Realignment Commission (BRAC)”-style fiscal commission, an idea promoted by the Cato Institute’s Romina Boccia. This commission would be staffed with independent experts appointed by the president. It would be “tasked with a clear and attainable objective, such as stabilizing the growth in the debt at no more than the GDP of the country, and empowered with fast-track authority, such that its recommendations become self-executing upon presidential approval, without Congress having to affirmatively vote on their enactment,” Boccia explains.
I’m uneasy about delegating the president power to appoint “experts.” Unfortunately, Congress has proven they will never seriously address the problem unless forced to. The idea is not unprecedented. Congress has already delegated a lot of its legislative power to administrative agencies and the executive branch. It’s also how the political class dealt with the closures of military facilities after the Cold War—another set of hard choices they refused to make on their own.
What’s more, Congress would retain some veto power. If they disapprove of the proposal, the House and Senate can reject it through a joint resolution within a specified period. Whether it’s the best solution to address our fiscal problems remains to be seen, but it’s worth considering.”
“Making continuing appropriations automatic in case of a lapse could remove the threat of shutdowns.”
“In addition to Republicans’ pledge to slice $130 billion from the $1.7 trillion government funding package that passed in December, conservatives want to take the process old-school. Rather than passing one massive bill, they’re calling for individual votes on the dozen appropriations bills that set annual budgets for different agencies, a more time-consuming but transparent procedure that recent Congresses have struggled to complete.
They’re also planning to allow an amendment free-for-all, which is all but certain to further drag out or trip things up.
Additionally, House Republicans say they’ll refuse to negotiate with the Senate until the upper chamber passes its own spending bills, which hasn’t happened in years. Typically, Senate appropriators have instead entered into bipartisan talks with their House counterparts, only burning valuable floor time on a package they’re certain would pass both chambers.
And GOP demands expand beyond funding the government. Republicans say they won’t back a debt limit increase unless they get their way on spending cuts or measures to reign in the ever-increasing $31 trillion debt. The timing of that could be tricky, however, as the Treasury Department could hit its credit card limit this summer, while federal cash expires on Sept. 30.
A debt ceiling hike will arguably make for a much bigger battle in Congress, leaving even less time and patience for bipartisan talks on funding the government.”