Slotkin leads effort to end government shutdowns for good

Melissa Nann Burke
The Detroit News
Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-MI) speaks during news conference discussing the "Shutdown to End All Shutdowns (SEAS) Act" on January 29, 2019 in Washington, D.C. Also pictured is Rep. Angie Craig (D-MN).

Washington — Michigan U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin is pressing a new bill to end future government shutdowns for good, by automatically renewing funding if lawmakers and the White House can't reach a deal on spending bills. 

If negotiators can't reach a deal within 30 days, the measure by the Holly Democrat would go a step further and suspend pay and official travel for members of Congress and executive branch officials for the duration of the impasse, she said. 

The legislation also targets the social and leisure time of senior government officials by shuttering government-funded golf courses and exercise facilities, including the House of Representatives gymnasium.

"This piece of legislation ends the use of government shutdowns as a tool of warring political parties," said Slotkin, who worked for the federal government for 14 years. 

She is introducing the bill with about 20 other freshman Democrats, who inherited the most recent shutdown and were not part of the negotiations to to end it. 

They say its aim is to transfer the financial "pain" of a shutdown from federal employees to decision-makers.

Sen. Mark Warner, D-Virginia, has a similar bill, the Stop Stupidity Act, that would keep the government running during a funding lapse, except for the legislative branch and the Executive Office of the President. Sen. Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, is a co-sponsor.

Slotkin said the idea was prompted by her struggle to explain to federal employees in her Michigan district why they were paying the price of a political disagreement they had no control over, she said.

"Instead of the TSA worker or average Coast Guard employee, it takes away the salary of members of Congress, the Executive Office of the President, all his political appointees — that's approximately 1,400 people across the executive branch," Slotkin said.

“I know this will be controversial. I’ve had people say to me, 'Well, I need my salary.' And I say, so does the FAA employee in Brighton. So does the TSA employee in Lake Orion,” she added.

WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 29:  Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-MI) speaks during news conference discussing the "Shutdown to End All Shutdowns (SEAS) Act" on January 29, 2019 in Washington, D.C.  (Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty Images)

“A member of Congress and member of the president’s executive office make a good salary. They can take a no-interest loan and probably be better off than some of our folks who are making $30,000 a year.”

Rep. Tom Malinowski, D-New Jersey, said it's "crazy" that the United States is the only country in the world that allows shutdowns to happen, and safeguards are needed. 

"We tried to devise something where the penalties would hit senior people in both the executive and legislative branches equally and, within the Congress, both parties equally, so we would all have the same incentives to come to an agreement," Malinowski said. 

The legislation would require daily quorum calls for the duration of a shutdown in an effort to keep lawmakers in Washington to negotiate.

Rep. Dean Phillips, D-Minnesota, said the group hopes to attract bipartisan support for the measure. 

"This really is a statement of principles. These are teeth we’d hope would never be used anyway," Phillips said. 

The latest shutdown — the third of President Donald Trump's presidency — ended Friday after he agreed to reopen the government for three weeks and give lawmakers time to negotiate a deal. 

An estimated 800,000 federal workers nationwide went without pay during the 35-day impasse, which affected nine departments and other federal agencies making up roughly a fourth of the federal government. 

Under the bill, federal employees would not be furloughed or forced to work without pay because the prior year’s spending levels would go into effect automatically when a deal can't be reached. 

There is bipartisan support on Capitol Hill for what is called an "automatic continuing resolution" to keep the government running when lawmakers can't reach a spending deal by a specified deadline. 

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, on Friday praised an idea previously proposed by Democratic former Rep. Dale Kildee of Flint that automatically renews funding levels until lawmakers reach an agreement on appropriations.  

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-California, told NBC's "Meet the Press" over the weekend that he would back an automatic continuing resolution and "go further." 

"You want to know how you'll never have a shutdown again? Let's not pay the members of Congress and Senate," McCarthy said. "Because this only harms others." 

However, House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita Lowey, D-New York, late Tuesday panned the proposals for automatically renewing appropriations, signaling they would go nowhere in the House. 

“While well-intentioned, automatic continuing resolutions would weaken Congress’ power of the purse, shift power to the president and make it much harder to fund investments important to working families," Lowey said in a statement. 

"Discretionary spending should be subject to annual review by Congress, not indefinite autopilot."

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters Tuesday he's open to bipartisan legislation to prevent future shutdowns. 

“I’d be open to anything that we could agree on, on a bipartisan basis, that would make them pretty hard to occur again,” said McConnell, a Kentucky Republican. 

Sen. Rob Portman, an Ohio Republican, has also reintroduced a bill end shutdowns by automatically renewing funding levels.

Portman's measure would also set deadlines for a deal to be made. If the deadlines aren't met, spending levels would be reduced by 1 percent — an incentive for members to come to a resolution quickly. 

Asked about Portman's bill Monday, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said she hadn't heard of the legislation and would not comment on taking shutdowns off the table as an option. 

"Look, I’m not going to get into the hypotheticals of taking that off the table," Sanders said.