Since returning from August recess, Republican leaders in both chambers have been scrambling to find a palatable way to navigate the series of fiscal deadlines falling over the next three months.

While their sense of urgency is apparent, it also seems they are willing to ditch any semblance of conservative principles in the face of this task. 


The latest indicator has been discussion of a “clean” three-month continuing resolution to keep the government open through December. Notwithstanding that so-called government shutdowns amount to little more than government slow-downs, GOP leadership may threaten the short-term CR is necessary to avoid another government “shutdown” and show the American people that “Republicans can govern.” But in reality, it’s an insidious maneuver, one that would ensure Congress continues lurching from crisis to crisis. This, in turn, will force members to pass something—anything—to avert these self-imposed crises. And that’s no way to do business. 

In reality, a three-month CR would be an abdication of real leadership—confirmation that GOP leadership really can’t govern. A short-term CR would lead inevitably to a budget deal that grows the size of government and eliminates the greatest recent success conservatives have made in limiting spending: the budget caps established under the 2011 Budget Control Act.  

A short-term CR would set the next “cliff” for government funding back to December—precisely the time when the Treasury now estimates the nation will run up against the debt limit. Not insignificantly, this is also the time of year that members, itching to get back home for the holidays, and seem to be more prone to make bad decisions. The motive behind this “coincidence” of timing is as straight-forward as it is Machiavellian: it will allow leadership to compile a massive, last-minute bill and plop it in front of lawmakers at the 11th hour as a “take it or leave it” proposition. Rank-and-file members will face a Sophie’s choice:  either approve legislation they cannot possibly have read, much less debated and improved, or shoulder blame for both a government shutdown and the prospect of a default. How is that responsible “governing” in any meaningful sense of the word? 

It is also extremely likely that this plan would increase both spending (by abandoning the bipartisan budget caps) and  taxes. You don’t need a crystal ball to make that prediction, just a clear memory of recent congressional history. 

We’ve seen this play out several times before, most recently in 2013. That’s when the Bipartisan Budget Act, sometimes called Ryan-Murray, lifted the budget caps and slapped more taxes on the American people. Though sold as a conservative accomplishment, Ryan-Murray was no such thing.  It paid for over half of the $63 billion in new spending not through offsetting cuts elsewhere but with new and higher fees and taxes.  

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have been looking for a “Ryan-Murray 2.0” ever since, lest they have to go through the hard work of following a regular budget process or abide by the fiscal restraints imposed on themselves in 2011.  

So are fiscal conservatives arguing for a government shutdown? Not at all.  

What they want is for the House and Senate to opt for a yearlong CR that keeps the budget caps that President Obama signed into law just four years ago. Funding government operations for a full year and upholding the budget caps passed by Congress is a much more responsible way to govern rather than forcing a last-minute bill before legislators and forcing them to choose between growing the size of government or the threat of political catastrophe.

Winfree is director of The Heritage Foundation’s Roe Institute for Economic Policy Studies.