Government Shutdown Showdown Looms

Posted: Sep 20, 2007 12:01 AM
Government Shutdown Showdown Looms

Republicans are dusting off plans to stop Democrats from daring President Bush to shut down the government, in a battle reminiscent of President Clinton’s 1995 budget standoff with the Congress.

“The Democrats are clearly posturing for a government shutdown they believe they can win, so this is a train wreck,” Sen. Jim DeMint (R.-S.C.) said. “And we’re trying to defuse that before it goes forward.”

The 12 appropriations bills--which fund the government’s year-to-year operations in general areas like agriculture or financial services-- are estimated to cost $23 billion more than the president requested in his fiscal year 2008 budget. As a result, Bush has issued veto threats on 10 of those bills and sufficient Republican majorities in the House and Senate have pledged to sustain his veto.

The deadline to pass those bills is September 30, when the federal government’s fiscal year ends. Congress has only completely met all 12 appropriations deadlines three times in the last 25 years.

This time around, Democrats want a public fight with the White House. It is rumored that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) will lump all the spending bills unrelated to national security into an omnibus bill and hand it off to Bush for an all or nothing veto.

DeMint, chairman of the Republican Steering Committee, and Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R.-Tex.), chairman of the Republican Study Committee, introduced legislation Wednesday prevent a shutdown.

Their bill, titled “Government Prevention Act,” would create an automatic continuing resolution to fund government at the previous year’s spending levels when Congress fails to pass their appropriations bills by the September 30 deadline.

In 1995, when the Republican Congress refused to pass the budget Democratic President Bill Clinton requested, or any substitute resolution, by deadline, all federal operations like parks and museums were temporarily closed and workers were sent home.

The resulting public backlash was blamed mostly on Republicans.

The default funding plan introduced by DeMint and Hensarling was endorsed by the Director of Office of Management and Budget Jim Nussle and is very similar to a “Government Shutdown Prevention” plan the President included in his budget requests.

DeMint tried to introduce this bill as an amendment to an ethics bill in January, but it was stymied by Democratic Whip Sen. Dick Durbin (Ill.) on a procedural move.

Hensarling has introduced the measure as a part of a larger budget package annually since 2003.

DeMint admitted the bill would be hard to pass. “Why would an appropriator want to vote for this bill when the best chance they have of getting things through is to create a crisis?” He continued: “But this is a culture that has to stop. This is a reason [the approval rating of] Congress is at 11 percent: because Americans can see the games we play.”

Hensarling said: “This will be a test.... This will separate those who would like to avoid a government shutdown from those who would like to bring it about.”