Minor Legislation with Massive Implications

U.S. Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI) is promoting the “Prevent Government Shutdown Act of 2019.” The goal of the act is to prevent disruptive government shutdowns.

Since Sen. Johnson arrived in Washington in 2011, partisan congressional standoffs have led to “three government shutdowns,” “34 continuing resolutions to avoid shutdowns,” and Congress has still “raised or suspended the debt ceiling nine times” and added $8.5 trillion to the national debt.

Clearly, the status quo is dysfunctional, and Johnson offers a compelling case for the proposed act. The act simply stipulates that if Congress can’t pass an appropriations bill by the given deadline, then the programs that comprise that bill would continue uninterrupted at the prior year’s level of funding until Congress hammers out a bill for the new fiscal year.

, Minor Legislation with Massive Implications

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To incentivize members of Congress to arrive at a compromise and pass a spending bill, the Prevent Government Shutdown Act would: 1) hold members’ pay in escrow until all appropriations bills are passed; 2) forbid members and their staffs from using federal or campaign funds to travel – again until all appropriations bills are passed; and 3) forbid Congress to consider other legislation except in the case of a national emergency.

At first glance, this seems like a common sense bill. The government shutdowns in recent years have greatly inconvenienced innocent citizens and government employees. Further, it often costs more to shut down certain government functions and later reboot them than it does to simply keep things chugging along.

Nevertheless, while practical and reasonable from one perspective, Johnson’s proposed legislation is dismaying from another. His rationale for the Prevent Government Shutdown Act sounds like an admission of defeat for fiscal conservatism.

In a telling passage in his Wall Street Journal opinion piece promoting the act, Johnson writes, “Anyone concerned that Congress would leave spending unchanged for the long term doesn’t understand the pervasive bipartisan support for increased spending.” There you have it: “bipartisan support for increased spending.”

There appears to be no room left for the possibility of Congress reducing spending. Apparently, Sen. Johnson, who arrived in Washington with a reputation for being an economic conservative, has abandoned all hope for spending restraint in Washington. Fiscal conservatism seems now to be a lost cause. Those Americans, who have been hoping for the kind of spending restraint that might someday halt, if not reverse, the increase in federal debt, have been abandoned.

When even the (reputedly) conservative members of Congress concede that ever-increasing government spending is unstoppable, it is hard not to conclude that the battle for fiscal restraint has been lost. What Johnson’s message in promoting the Prevent Government Shutdown Act essentially says is: We won’t have any more government shutdowns, but we will continue to have more spending and more debt. “We, the people,” can say “sayonara” to such outmoded concepts as debt ceilings, balanced budgets, and spending restraint. The act Sen. Johnson is promoting represents a formal surrender to the forces and ideology of Big Government.

What can we do? If Congress is incapable of keeping our country from plunging into the chaos of national bankruptcy (a chaos that would be incalculably more jarring than any short-term government shutdown) then our only alternative is to do what Christians should be doing anyhow: put our trust in the merciful hands of our heavenly Father.

About Mark W. Hendrickson

Dr. Mark W. Hendrickson is a retired adjunct faculty member, economist, and fellow for economic and social policy with the Institute for Faith and Freedom at Grove City College.

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