December 14, 2019
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Another government shutdown narrowly avoided

Susan Walsh | AP
Susan Walsh | AP
Senate Minority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer of N.Y., center, standing with Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., left, and Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., right, during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2019, on the impacts of funding of the border wall.

Is it just us, or is the U.S. living a government funding version of the movie Groundhog Day?

The federal government may not be experiencing the same day over and over, but it does seem trapped in an unproductive, irresponsible cycle of short-term funding bills that just barely avert a government shutdown.

As reported by Politico, “Congress cleared a funding patch Thursday to put off another government shutdown, buying just over four weeks to tangle over a broader spending agreement amid disputes over border wall spending.”

This excerpt, unfortunately, has turned into an evergreen statement about how Washington addresses — or fails to address — funding priorities for the country. Almost the exact same thing could have been written in late September, when Congress passed a short-term continuing resolution, or CR, through Nov. 21 in hopes of coming together for a more long-term and predictable funding agreement.

That never materialized, and the bill passed by Congress and signed by President Donald Trump just before Thursday’s deadline merely kicks the can down the road again to December. Congress and the White House will once more face the prospect of a potential shutdown if they don’t once again reach some sort of deal by Dec. 20.

If you feel like we’ve been here before, it’s because we have. Failure to reach a deal last December, driven by disagreement over border wall funding, led to the longest shutdown in the history of the federal government.

A bipartisan Senate report released earlier in 2019 found the 54 days that the federal government was shut down over the past five years ultimately cost taxpayers almost $4 billion. The costs here are real, and they are significant. They are also unnecessary.

It’s remarkable how little attention the Nov. 21 deadline, and the potential for another government shutdown, received recently. It was largely drowned out by the ongoing impeachment proceedings, as other important legislative priorities have been.

But we also have to wonder if government officials, the media and voters are starting to lose sight of the very real dangers of shutdown politics — not because the problem has actually been addressed but because this seems to keep happening.

A 2018 report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office detailed the shortcomings of short-term funding agreements. According to that report, Congress has used CRs at some point in all but four of the past 40 years. Here’s an understatement: That’s a trend the federal government needs to move away from.

“Operating under a CR or the possibility of a shutdown, or both, creates uncertainty, complicates agency operations, and leads to inefficiencies,” the report said. That’s a quote this editorial board has already pointed to in the past — again, it feels a bit like Groundhog Day.

It’s difficult to tell which is more misguided: budgeting by CR, or turning to a large rodent to predict the length of winter weather each year (our apologies to Punxsutawney Phil). Regardless, America’s continued reliance on short term spending bills certainly matches that old adage about insanity — doing the same thing over and over again while expecting different results.

At some point, this stopgap funding insanity must stop.



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