Constant threats to government funding fail the American public

Congress is once again failing to fulfill one of its most basic responsibilities — approving yearly appropriations bills to fund government programs and services. 

With the Oct. 1 deadline long past and Congress operating on a stop-gap spending bill that will soon expire, federal employees who are fighting the worst public health crisis in a century, defending our country from numerous national security threats, dealing with the shaky economy and responding to so many other urgent matters, have been left in limbo. 

Will there be a government shutdown, a year-long funding bill at current or higher spending levels or continuous short-term appropriations that make uncertainty the norm? 

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The ongoing and contentious money issues now consuming lawmakers involve serious policy differences between the political parties, and these disputes are playing out in a high-stakes, highly partisan political environment. Reaching consensus is a long shot. 

In the meantime, federal agencies cannot make critical decisions regarding current programs, launch new and in some cases urgent initiatives now on the drawing board, plan for the future or make sound management decisions. 

The Biden administration argues the gridlock is delaying badly needed investments in the public health infrastructure, cybersecurity safeguards, high-poverty schools and delaying increased staffing for the Social Security Administration and for food safety inspections. 

The congressional dysfunction also increases public distrust of government, demoralizes civil servants, hurts federal contractors and other private-sector businesses and delays or creates uncertainty in the delivery of grants to states and municipalities. 

The American people are the ultimate losers. And overseas, the deadlock reinforces the narrative of our adversaries that the United States is a declining power. Resolution of the current crisis is essential, but it is not enough. For decades, we have seen politicians take our government to the brink because of one policy dispute or another. Stalemates will happen again and again unless incentives and processes change to ensure that another devastating impasse can be avoided. 

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There is one option on the table that is by no means a  perfect solution but is perhaps a way to jumpstart a return to sanity and responsibility.

The legislative proposal, sponsored by Sens. James LankfordJames Paul LankfordRubio blocks quick votes on stalemated defense bill Constant threats to government funding fail the American public GOP Senate candidate says Fauci is 'mass murderer,' should be jailed rather than 'hero' Rittenhouse MORE (R-Okla.) and Maggie HassanMargaret (Maggie) HassanConservative group targeting Kelly, Hassan, Cortez Masto in multi-million-dollar ad blitz Biden signs four bills aimed at helping veterans Constant threats to government funding fail the American public MORE (D-N.H.), is designed to prevent government shutdowns and force members of the House and Senate to meet the yearly deadline for approving appropriations bills. 

While a key provision of the bill would automatically impose temporary funding measures at current levels to avoid a shutdown if the deadline were not met — something the Democrats oppose during this current fight — the legislation has other provisions designed to spur action. 

The bill, for example, would make life difficult for members of Congress by essentially forcing them to stay in Washington until regular funding is approved. Under the legislation, House and Senate members would be required to show up at the Capitol every day, including weekends, and be present for a mandatory quorum call. 

No taxpayer funds could be used for travel, except for one flight to return to Capitol Hill for work. Requirements for attendance would also apply to the congressional staff as well as White House Office of Management and Budget officials. 

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It is unfortunate that we have reached the point where legislative proposals are being offered to treat lawmakers like school children and impose a form of after-school detention, but the reality is that Congress is not doing its job. 

Observers used to bet that the threat of a shutdown or funding delays for major programs would motivate Congress to make a deal to keep the government fully operational. But brinkmanship loses its luster when you keep plunging into the abyss.

Instead of repeatedly playing this risky game and courting repeated disaster let’s take steps to prevent it from happening again. Congress owes the public a government that works. Let’s hold lawmakers to that duty.  

Max Stier is the president and CEO of the Partnership for Public Service, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization committed to building a better government and stronger democracy.