Senator Says He Has Trump and McConnell's Support for Bill to End Shutdowns Permanently

Sen. Mitch McConnell (left) and President Donald Trump

Sen. Mitch McConnell (left) and President Donald Trump Andrew Harnik/AP

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Momentum grows for bipartisan bill to prevent lawmakers from leaving D.C. until they pass spending bills.

A bill to permanently end government shutdowns and protect federal employees from being sent home during spending fights is gaining momentum in Congress, with key leaders promising to support the reform. 

Sens. James Lankford, R-Okla., and Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., are renewing their push for the legislation after receiving a stamp of approval from Senate leadership and the White House. The bill is one of many lawmakers have advocated in order to end shutdowns for good since the 35-day partial appropriations lapse that ended earlier this year. Those measures have included automatically cutting lawmakers’ pay, or agency spending levels, as shutdowns drag on. One Democratic proposal would increase agency spending until the government reopens. 

The Prevent Government Shutdowns Act (S. 589) would instead ban official travel for members of Congress, their staffers and Office of Management and Budget personnel until appropriations bills are signed into law. It would institute a stopgap continuing resolution to keep agencies funded at their existing levels until a spending agreement is reached. The bill would require a recorded quorum call each day the CR is in effect to motivate lawmakers to show up to the Capitol daily and would prevent non-appropriations bills from receiving a vote during appropriations stalemates, except for national security emergencies. 

The Lankford-Hassan legislation has received the most bipartisan support and was easily approved in the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee last month.

“We’ve got to stop shutdowns,” Lankford said during a call with reporters on Wednesday. “There’s no benefit when a shutdown occurs.” He added the bill would ensure “federal workers, and everyone else, are held harmless” and would provide adequate motivation to pass actual appropriations because lawmakers and their staffs would be in the Capitol on “weekends, weekdays, we’re here till it’s done.” 

Members of Congress and their staffers “grimace” when Lankford discusses the bill with them, he said, because they realize the impact it would have on their lives. 

In an op-ed published in The Hill this week, the senators said the measure would “protect federal workers and the American people from wasteful shutdowns.” 

“While the federal government has always provided back pay for federal employees after a shutdown, it’s excruciating to not know whether or not you can pay your rent because Congress failed to do its job,” they wrote. 

In a crucial development for the bill’s sponsors, both Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and President Trump have added their support. Lankford said he spoke with Trump on Tuesday to pitch the legislation and the president said he was in favor of it. The White House did not respond to a request to confirm this account. 

The bill does not yet have a companion in the House, as Lankford and Hassan are still working out final language to win favor with enough senators. The bill must also receive approval from the Senate Appropriations Committee, where leaders have promised to bring it up for a vote but only after they pass spending bills for fiscal 2020. 

Hassan said the reform would move Congress away from constant brinkmanship and encourage a more responsible budgeting process. She explained there is a newfound urgency to address end shutdowns due to the record length of the most recent lapse. 

More people “know the real impact it has,” Hassan said. “The American public really engaged in this one.” 

Lankford added there was an “awakening” during the 35-day impasse that has carried over. 

“It’s not just a flash in the pan, ‘We’ll deal with this next time,’” he said.