Legislation cosponsored by Sens. James Lankford, R-Okla., and Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., would have effectively ended government shutdowns, but it failed to advance as an amendment on current appropriations bills.

Legislation cosponsored by Sens. James Lankford, R-Okla., and Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., would have effectively ended government shutdowns, but it failed to advance as an amendment on current appropriations bills. Anna Moneymaker / GETTY IMAGES

Senate rejects measure to end shutdowns for good, but makes progress on spending bills

Rather than end the threat of shutdowns, Congress is barreling toward a possible one three weeks away.

A majority of senators this week voted to end shutdowns forever, but the bill failed to gain the requisite support and the chamber has moved on toward passing its bipartisan annual funding bills. 

The Prevent Government Shutdowns Act (S. 135) was proposed as an amendment to a package of three fiscal 2024 spending measures, but was rejected in a 56-42 vote that required 60 votes for approval. While its failure kept the prospect of a shutdown on the table if Congress fails to act before current funding expires Nov. 17, the Senate in recent days has made some progress toward enacting full-year appropriations. Preventing a shutdown, however, remains a difficult task in a divided Congress with three weeks to act. 

The measure to end shutdowns, put forward by Sens. James Lankford, R-Okla., and Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., would have banned official travel for members of Congress, their staffers and Office of Management and Budget personnel until appropriations bills were signed into law. It would have instituted a stopgap continuing resolution to keep agencies funded at their existing levels until a spending agreement is reached. The bill would have required a recorded quorum call each day the CR is in effect to motivate lawmakers to show up to the Capitol daily and would have prevented non-appropriations bills from receiving a vote during appropriations stalemates, except for national security emergencies.

Democratic senators voted heavily against the legislation, with the exception of Sens. Hassan, Tim Kaine, D-Va., Mark Kelly, D-Ariz., Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., Bob Menendez, D-N.J., Jackie Rosen, D-Nev., and Mark Warner, D-Va., as well as Angus King, I-Maine, and Kyrsten Sinema, I-Ariz., who caucus with Democrats. Republicans almost unanimously voted for the measure, apart from Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky. 

Lankford said on Wednesday he worked with both the Trump and Biden White Houses to ensure his plan would work. 

“We have the opportunity to end government shutdowns forever and say, ‘That’s off the table. We as a nation don’t do government shutdowns,’” Lankford said. 

He added even House members, though “definitely crazy at times,” have families and obligations at home and would have come together to pass spending bills if they were stuck in Washington. 

“If we don’t finish our classwork, we have to stay after class,” Lankford said. “That’s all it is. In the meantime, the government continues to run at the previous year’s levels. That way federal workers are held harmless, the American people are held harmless, the pressure is on the people that it should be on.” 

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee, said no one wants to avoid a shutdown more than her, but the amendment would have made it easier for lawmakers to put the government on autopilot. 

The measure “would make it way harder for Congress to actually get its job done and fund our government,” Murray said. “It would allow members, particularly those who are fine at obstructing, to ignore their responsibility to fund our government and deliver for the communities that they represent. It will hurt agencies and programs people count on by freezing funding levels.” 

The amendment, which ultimately failed, played a key role in holding up the vote on the larger “minibus” spending package to which it would have been attached. Proponents of the measure had blocked quick consideration of the package—made up of three bills that won unanimous support at the committee level—until they could guarantee a vote on it. 

The Senate is currently working its way through dozens of amendments, many of which will be considered together en bloc, but is expected to finalize passage of the bills to fund the departments of Veterans Affairs, Agriculture, Transportation and Housing and Urban Development next week. The chamber reached a breakthrough this week after more than a month of delays from various obstructions. All of the spending measures comply with the budget caps established by the Fiscal Responsibility Act that President Biden negotiated with House Republicans in exchange for raising the debt ceiling earlier this year.

“By passing this package, we can continue moving on our appropriations process, and we can show that by working together in a bipartisan way, you can actually get things done in a divided Congress,” Murray said. 

The committee chair said passing that first package will “show unity” and demonstrate Congress can avoid lumping all 12 annual appropriations bills into one omnibus, as it has done for most years in recent memory. House Republicans have made it a priority to pass all 12 fiscal 2024 bills separately and have so far done so for five of them after approving the Energy Department spending measure on Thursday. Unlike the Senate, however, the House is considering bills at far lower funding levels than those agreed to in the Fiscal Responsibility Act and is passing them along party-line votes.  

Newly elected House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., said he plans to pass all 12 bills by Nov. 17 and then vote on another stopgap CR through either Jan. 15 or April 15 to buy time for negotiations with the White House and Senate. That process could prove difficult, as Democrats have advocated for a “clean” CR while Johnson told Fox News in an interview this week he had other ideas. 

“We’re working through this with the ideas and trying to ensure that if another stopgap measure is required, that we do it with certain conditions,” Johnson said.