By Erik Wasson
Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) on Wednesday introduced a bill aimed at ending the threat of a government shutdown once and for all.
The bill would automatically extend government spending at current levels for 120 days when funding expires. If Congress continues to fail to act, spending would be cut by 1 percent across the board every 90 days.
“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,” Portman said in a statement.
The triggered cuts could give fiscal hawks a negotiating advantage, since simply failing to reach a deal would reduce spending by default.
The measure is supported by Democratic Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and could boost Portman’s image as a bipartisan deal-maker. Portman is considered a top contender to be presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney's running mate.
A shutdown battle consumed Washington in April 2011 when President Obama, Senate Democrats and the new House GOP majority could not agree on a level of spending for a fiscal year that was already half complete.
A deal was reached to keep the government funded, but the battle bruised the image of both parties.
Congress regularly fails to complete spending bills by the Oct. 1 deadline, and this year is bound to be no exception. A short-term funding bill will likely be needed to keep the government open.
Portman's bill is a departure from the tactics of the GOP House in the 1990s, when then-Speaker Newt Gingrich actively sought shutdown scenarios to try to cut government spending.
Sens. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), John Boozman (R-Ark.), Dan Coats (R-Ind.), John Cornyn (R-Texas), Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), John Hoeven (R-N.D.), Mike Lee (R-Utah) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) are also co-sponsors. A companion bill was introduced by Rep. James Lankford (R-Okla.) in the House.
— This story was updated at 2:40 p.m.