Raising his profile at an opportune moment, rumored vice presidential candidate Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) on Wednesday introduced a measure to establish an automatic mechanism to prevent government shutdowns, a recurring feature of the 112th Congress.
The End Government Shutdowns Act would create an automatic continuing resolution if Congress fails to fund the government through regular channels in time. Funding would continue at existing levels for 120 days, then fall by 1 percent every 90 days thereafter. The bill was unveiled by Portman and 9 cosponsors: Sens. Jon Tester (D-MT), John Barrasso (R-WY), John Boozman (R-AR), Dan Coats (R-IN), John Cornyn (R-TX), Mike Enzi (R-WY), John Hoeven (R-ND), Mike Lee (R-UT) and John McCain (R-AZ).
It’s a not-so-subtle jab at House Republicans, who have been at the center of repeated near-shutdowns since 2011, refusing to fund the government unless their policy demands were met. The move reflects Senate Republicans’ frustration with the obstinacy of rank-and-file House colleagues, who are again flirting with shutting down the government this fall, just weeks away from the election.
“Although Congress continually fails to pass appropriations bills by the October 1st deadline, we should not force Americans to face the threat of government shutdown hanging over their heads,” Portman said in a statement. “Our legislation ensures the federal government continues to provide the necessary services to its citizens while protecting against the panic and pressure of last-minute budget deals, allowing Congress to make the decisions necessary to get Washington’s fiscal house back in order.”
In March 2011, Congress came within inches of a shutdown, striking a deal in the final moments after painstaking negotiations. That fall, Republicans threatened another shutdown over political damends, which was also narrowly avoided. House conservatives are at it again this year, using the appropriations process to insist that Democrats agree to cut spending beneath levels agreed to in last fall’s debt limit law as well as gut funds for the Affordable Care Act.
The timing of the latest threatened shutdown makes it a tricky proposition politically, prompting Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) to buck his conservative members by calling for temporarily continued government funding at existing levels. Top Republicans are acutely aware of the damage that could be done to their hopes in November if the party is seen as sparking a government shutdown on the eve of Election Day.
Sahil Kapur is a congressional reporter for TPM. He previously covered politics and public policy for numerous publications including The Guardian and The Huffington Post. He can be reached at sahil [at] talkingpointsmemo.com.