Congress must move past budget brinksmanship

Published 9:35 am Monday, December 9, 2019

A week before Thanksgiving, Congress approved and President Donald Trump signed a short-term government funding bill through December 20. This bill, also known as a continuing resolution (CR), keeps existing expenditures in place and was necessary to prevent an immediate government shutdown. However, the CR amounts to a regrettable stopgap and sets up a legislative sprint to find a longer-term solution.

If members of Congress and the president are unable to reach a new agreement by the deadline, then our country could experience a government shutdown right before Christmas for the second year in a row. That would be unacceptable. I am hoping that cooler heads prevail and we can move past budget brinkmanship.


Shutdowns waste time and money

Washington falls into these kinds of traps far too often. The most recent shutdown lasted for 35 days, longer than any other in American history. During that time, loans to farmers went unprocessed, TSA agents and air traffic controllers reported for duty without compensation, and companies could not verify workers’ immigration statuses. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that it cost the American economy $8 billion in the first quarter of 2019.

Among the worst effects, military men and women in the Coast Guard, deployed around the world, had to serve without pay. This did not happen to members of the Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force, who are funded through a separate defense appropriation. Because no service member should go without pay, I have authored a bill that would prevent the Coast Guard from being singled out again.

This legislation would ease the burden of future budget impasses, but Congress should do more to avoid this scenario in the first place. I have co-sponsored a bill that would keep the government open without an updated budget agreement while giving lawmakers strong incentives to come back to the negotiating table.


Continuing Resolutions create problems

Shutdowns are worst-case scenarios in federal budgeting, but CRs like the one in place today create their own problems. These across-the-board extensions of current spending bills require money to be used in areas where it is no longer needed and delay new programs.

This is particularly harmful to our nation’s defense. Our military cannot execute this year’s strategy with last year’s budget and priorities. While America’s defense industrial base and the Pentagon wait for updated funding, our nation’s rivals make gains that erode our competitive edge.


A Basic Responsibility

Of course, the best way to get out of this destructive pattern is for Republicans and Democrats to do their work in a spirit of consensus and bipartisanship. Congressional leaders agreed with President Trump on a two-year budget deal as early as July. That deal involved compromises on both sides. It also set up a framework for a responsible appropriations process to fill in the details, and I hoped it signaled a return to a normal budgeting process.

Since that time, it is regrettable that some elected members have taken back promises they made this summer, allowing partisan politics to distract from the task at hand. This creates uncertainty not only for our military but also for the millions of Americans who rely on federal services.


U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) is the senior Senator representing Mississippi in the United States Senate.