Senators seek to stop shutdowns forever, after McCarthy’s spending stumbles

As the government shutdown deadline edges closer, a bipartisan idea is gaining new traction on both sides of a Capitol: taking shutdowns off the table entirely.

Senators and House members began circulating a letter on Friday pushing legislation that would automatically fund the government past spending deadlines like Sept. 30. It’s a longshot, but if passed it would amount to a permanent end to shutdown threats. Addressed to top party leaders on both sides of the Capitol, the missive asks for floor votes on the effort in both the House and the Senate, according to a draft copy obtained by POLITICO.

There are several different proposals floating around the Capitol about ending shutdowns entirely, as Congress stares down a Sept. 30 deadline and a House GOP that seems incapable of passing any sort of solution. But one bipartisan proposal from Sens. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) and James Lankford (R-Okla.) has at least some bipartisan buy-in, a signal of senators’ increased frustration with Speaker Kevin McCarthy and the House gridlock.

“A number of senators, on a bipartisan basis, would like a vote on a bill authored by Senators Lankford and Hassan,” the letter reads. “The Prevent Government Shutdowns Act would do exactly what the title suggests. It’s a simple bill that offers an eminently reasonable solution to one form of recurring congressional gridlock.”

Their bill would trigger two-week stopgap bills and require Congress to focus solely on spending bills if Congress misses its Sept. 30 funding deadline. Reached by telephone on Friday, Lankford said he’s aware of the letter and said it’s one part of a broader behind-the-scenes push to get a vote.

“There’s Democrats talking to Democrats, Republicans talking to Republicans about the bill,” he said. “There’s lots of conversations that are going out there. This letter is just one more of them.”

A bill aimed at stopping government shutdowns passed through a Senate committee in 2019, though it never passed the full chamber. On Friday, the former chair of the committee, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), confirmed that he’s aware of a renewed effort that began on Friday to get a floor vote and praised the bill’s bipartisan supporters. He had sought a vote on that legislation as part of a package of spending bills this week, though that package stalled out as the Senate broke for the weekend on Thursday.

Many in Congress may be reluctant to hold a vote on a bill that continues government funding indefinitely, dramatically changing the precedent for how Capitol Hill handles shutdowns. Currently, congressional leaders can use shutdown deadlines as take-it-or-leave-it gambits to their members, empowering party chiefs to devise must-pass bills.

Now that the shutdown is so close, though, individual senators have increasing leverage in both the Republican-controlled House and Democratic-controlled Senate, where all 100 senators will need to come to an agreement to even hold a final vote on a funding bill before a potential Oct. 1 funding lapse. The Senate left town on Thursday and won’t return until Tuesday due to the Yom Kippur holiday.

And the anti-shutdown effort is not just a GOP affair. In addition to Hassan, Centrist Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly of Arizona plus Independent Sens. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Angus King of Maine all support the bill. Still, the legislation has more Republican co-sponsors than Democratic backers at the moment, raising questions about just how many Democrats might sign on.

For many lawmakers, the most urgent task is a temporary funding patch that averts a shutdown before they return to negotiating other, long-term funding legislation. But for those who have been seeking a moment to pass a bill ending shutdown threats in the future, now seems the time to act.

“Maggie and I’ve been trying to be able to get this on the floor for five years, every time that there was a government shutdown,” Lankford said. “Then after the shutdown is over, and we’ve gotten things resolved, people seem to move on to the next topic.”

Senators are pushing for votes on a bill that would permanently end shutdowns, instead triggering two-week stopgap bills when funding lapses.  

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