Bill Hoagland: Nation Does Not Need Another Government Shutdown

As Congress returns to Washington today, the clock is ticking to September 30, the end of the government's fiscal year and the date after which the government will shut down unless a funding measure is passed for FY 2014. Only 9 legislative days remain before the end of the month.

CRFB board member Bill Hoagland served as staff director to the Senate Budget Committee in 1995, the last time there was a substantial government shutdown. He wrote an op-ed last Friday in The Hill, cautioning against repeating the "sad experience" of 1995. Only one-fifth of the current Congress was in office in 1995, and new members may not remember that the shutdown brought no benefits with some great disruptions in government operations:

Fortunately, the four current leaders, Speaker Boehner (R-Ohio) and Minority Leader Pelosi (D-Calif.), as well as Senate Majority and Minority Leaders Reid (D-Nev.) and McConnell (R-Ky.) were on the scene in 1995. They should know no one benefited, neither political party, from the experience.  In the presidential and congressional elections that followed, Republicans lost 4 House seats, President Clinton won reelection over Senator Dole, and the Senate remained unchanged. The public’s respect for Congress was the real loss to our system of governance. The unfavorable rating of Congress increased over 5 points to 60 percent shortly after the 1995 shutdowns -- an unfavorable rating the current Congress would enjoy since today that metric tops 80 percent.

Besides the politics, the implementation of the shutdown was a major negative. One current Republican member, then chairman of the Subcommittee on Civil Service of the House Oversight and Government Reform Rep. John Mica (R-Fl.), reviewed the 1995 shutdown in detail. Mica concluded that the execution of the shutdown by the agencies and the President’s Office of Management and Budget, was “disorganized and illogical, at best, and oftentimes chaotic."

Hoagland criticizes any talk of shutting down the government or defaulting on the national debt, but is especially critical of the demands of some Republican lawmakers to defund the Affordable Care Act. Although he has concerns with some elements of the bill, Hoagland argues that defunding the bill through the appropriations process would be ineffectual since most of the bill's spending is in the form of mandatory programs that would not be impacted by a government shutdown.

Second, even if “defunding” on a House-passed CR could make it out of the Senate, which is extremely unlikely, it would be vetoed by the president and the veto would not be overridden. Then the government would shutdown.  But even more disconcerting for “defunding” proponents, if magically the president were to sign such legislation, because most of the funding for the law is not subject to annual appropriations, a government shutdown would be avoided but the key provisions of the ACA would continue. It would be a futile exercise; accomplishing nothing that advocates for defunding the law have sought.

The country should avoid a government shutdown, which introduces complexity into an already choppy year, needlessly hurts public respect for Congress, and creates chaos for people trying to use or administer government services. Ultimately, they will need to come to an agreement, at a minimum in the short term, on funding levels for discretionary spending for the fast-approaching fiscal year.

Click here to read the full op-ed.

"My Views" are works published by members of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, but they do not necessarily reflect the views of all members of the committee.