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Major departments of the U.S. government have been shut down or limping along with unpaid and partial staff for an entire month. At day 30, the shutdown of 2018-2019 is the longest in our nation’s history. It is hurting ordinary Americans, wasting taxpayer money and has done nothing to resolve the political stalemate that prompted the shutdown before Christmas.

Congress and President Trump must agree on a budget for the remainder of the fiscal year that began Oct. 1, 2018, and get public service back to normal functioning starting this week. They must also take action to ensure that Americans never again suffer such a pointless, wasteful disruption of their lives.

The way to avoid future shutdowns is to enact a law that automatically continues government funding at present levels when Congress and the president fail to enact a budget by the Oct. 1 start of the federal fiscal year. With an automatic continuing resolution, government employees will get paid, they will all keep working. Private contract employees working for the federal government will get paid. (In this shutdown, these workers have already lost a full month’s salary that won’t be reimbursed by Congress.) Farmers will be able to do their regular business with the Farm Services Agency. Wildland firefighters will get the training they need to be ready for the expanding fire season. Airport security lines won’t be longer because unpaid TSA staff is calling in sick. Public information officers will be on the job to help citizens know about their government. Tax refunds will be issued expeditiously.

On Jan. 3, William G. Gale, a fellow at the Brookings Institution, wrote “How to shut down future shutdowns.” “Congress and the president should enact a rule that says that if appropriations bills are not passed on time, a CR (continuing resolution) that funds the government at the previous year’s inflation-adjusted levels would automatically occur,” Gale suggested.

Eight Republican senators, including Montana’s Steve Daines and Wyoming’s Mike Enzi and John Barrasso, made an automatic CR proposal on Jan. 11. They introduced the End Government Shutdowns Act, which would create an automatic continuing resolution for any regular appropriations bill not completed by the Oct. 1 deadline. After the first 120 days, the CR funding would be reduced by 1 percent and would be reduced by 1 percent again every 90 days thereafter until Congress completes the annual appropriations process.

In a press release, Daines said: “Shutdowns don’t work. Yet we’re seeing them happen time and time again. The End Government Shutdowns Act will hold Congress accountable to funding the government and insure the hardworking folks aren’t paying the price for the partisan, political games being played in D.C.”

“Shutting down the government disrupts lives both inside and outside the government,” Enzi said. “We could avoid future shutdowns altogether if Congress would pass the End Government Shutdowns Act.”

“Americans shouldn’t have to suffer the uncertainty or go without a paycheck because Congress failed to fund the government,” Barasso said.

U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, has introduced this proposal in every Congress since 2010. Let’s consider what would have happened had that bill been law last year. Taxpayer money wouldn’t have been wasted preparing for the shutdown, public services wouldn’t have been discontinued, federal and contract workers would have spent their pay checks in the U.S. economy, which is now at risk of contracting with the shutdown slowdown in spending.

The Portman bill also would have cut funding for Agriculture, Interior, Commerce, Justice, Homeland Security, State, Transportation, Treasury and Housing and Urban Development by 1 percent on Jan. 1. Across-the-board automatic cuts are poor policy because the budget axe falls with the same force on efficient, vital programs as on bloated pork barrel.

Putting government spending on automatic pilot certainly isn’t a good way to operate. But it’s better than where we are now – a month into a government shutdown and four months past the start of the fiscal year.

In the present state of Washington, D.C., dysfunction, an automatic continuing resolution is an insurance policy against catastrophic government gridlock. The automatic CR would help protect ordinary Americans from being used as bargaining chips in the political games being played at the highest levels of U.S. government.

Daines and the other senators are on the right track with the End Government Shutdowns Act.

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The Billings Gazette

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