Appropriations bills are about money, and they are supposed to be solely about money. In the House of Representatives, the chamber’s own rules forbid the insertion of legislative issues on appropriations measures. Such legislative language only expands the potential for controversy, and such controversy may well lead to gridlock. So the key to the success of a continuing resolution is to reduce controversy and find compromise that will allow negotiations to take place on a longer-term solution.
That is the path that the House of Representatives took in late September 1995, as the fiscal year was ending and no appropriations were in place for the fiscal year that would begin on October 1. But by November 15, the House, under Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA), was becoming impatient. The House not only demanded reducing funding levels below those of current operations but also attached a rider that was completely outside the jurisdiction of the Appropriations Committee: They demanded a $284-per-year increase in the Medicare Part B premium.
President Clinton threatened that he would veto such a continuing resolution, and on November 14, he did.
That precedent is in many ways similar to the tactic that the House of Representatives is using in the current budget standoff. Both involve injecting unrelated policy matter into a funding resolution in hopes of using a shutdown as leverage for a policy it could not otherwise enact. It must be said, however, that the magnitude of the 1995 rider was relatively small compared to what is being demanded as the price for maintaining government services in the current standoff.
Finally, what price did the American people pay for past shutdowns? Estimates following the 1995 shutdowns placed the cost at $1.4 billion, but later analyses have considerably upped the cost. Issues not addressed in the earlier estimates included:
One could also add to that list the loss of confidence that occurs both in this country and around the world when the United States is incapable of resolving basic issues and demonstrating that its government is able to at least provide the basic services available to the citizens of any economically and politically developed country. That makes it more difficult to persuade investors to take risks on U.S. enterprises and for consumers to be willing to make the purchases necessary to allow this economy to grow.
It is clear that those in the House who are advocating this shutdown are not only misrepresenting this country’s experience with shutdowns but do not actually understand that history. If they did, they would be taking immediate steps to reopen the federal government.
Scott Lilly is a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress. Lilly was the Democratic staff director on the House Appropriations Committee during the 1995–1996 government shutdowns.
This post was originally published in Center for American Progress
Photo Credit: John Sonderman
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