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How to avoid another government shutdown

January 30, 2019

When leaders at the statehouse in Madison can’t agree on spending priorities — which happens a lot — the government doesn’t shut down. Since 1953, Wisconsin has required previous spending levels to continue until a budget impasse is resolved.

U.S. Rep. Glenn Grothman, R-Glenbeulah, wants Washington to adopt a similar rule to avoid senseless shutdowns that withhold pay from federal workers, slow the economy and project dysfunction around the globe.

Grothman on Friday proposed a bipartisan bill with U.S. Rep. David Loebsack, D-Iowa, that would automatically continue funding the government at the previous year’s levels if Congress fails to meet a spending deadline.

Eliminating the risk of a partial shutdown might take some pressure off the president and Congress to cut a deal. State budgets in Wisconsin often are late by weeks or months.

Yet they always get done here, even with fierce partisan differences that must be bridged to adopt a spending agreement. And if negotiations do drag on in Wisconsin, at least government continues to operate in a responsible way.

That hasn’t been the case in Washington, where partial shutdowns are becoming a political strategy to rally supporters, hurt political opponents and raise campaign donations.

President Donald Trump signed a bill Friday to reopen the federal government after a record 35-day partial shutdown. But federal workers could be sent home or forced to work without pay again starting Feb. 15 if a deal on border security isn’t reached with Democrats. The Republican president, who deserves most of the blame for this debacle, also has threatened to bypass Congress by declaring a national emergency, which would prompt a legal fight and create more uncertainty.

Some 800,000 federal employees were furloughed or expected to work without pay in recent weeks as Trump demanded $5.7 billion to build more barriers along the border with Mexico. That left many government services on hold or hampered. Many flights and federal grants were delayed. Food stamps were threatened. The timing of tax refunds was put in doubt.

The Congressional Budget Office this week estimated the five-week partial shutdown has caused about $3 billion in permanent harm to the U.S. economy.

Grothman was wrong to oppose back pay for workers who were indefinitely furloughed. But his strong idea to stop government shutdowns from occurring in the first place deserves support.

Maintaining current spending levels when the politicians can’t agree has worked in Wisconsin to avoid painful disruptions in state services and pay. Washington should similarly protect its services and workforce from a chaotic president and partisan spats.

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