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9 Republican Senators Think They Have A Solution To Avoid Future Government Shutdowns

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Nine Republican senators think they have a solution to avoid a future government shutdown - take the threat of one completely off the table. Their bill essentially requires government funding to continue in the short term, even if Congress doesn't approve a new spending package. This is called the End Government Shutdowns Act.

And here to help explain it is William Gale. He's a chair in federal economic policy at the Brookings Institution. Welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

WILLIAM GALE: Thank you very much.

KELLY: All right, so start with the non-wonkiest version you can manage of how this Senate bill would work.

GALE: Sure. The government cannot spend money unless Congress explicitly authorizes it to spend money. So when Congress does not get around to authorizing such spending, the government shuts down, such as what we're in now.

KELLY: Right.

GALE: What the Republican bill would do would be to say, the government will stay open - it will not shut down, even if there's a spending bill that hasn't passed. But the government spending levels would be cut by successive amounts over time until Congress actually took action.

KELLY: The logic being that it doesn't make any sense to shut down much of the government over one tiny slice of government spending - over an argument over one tiny slice, such as is unfolding now over a wall at the border.

GALE: I think the important point is no business would operate this way. Imagine a business had some disagreement about how much they should spend on research and development, say, and because the management couldn't resolve that issue, they shut down the whole business, right? That would make no sense whatsoever.

KELLY: So could this work? I mean, essentially, what you're describing is this would be a temporary funding measure that would kick in if Congress didn't pass a budget and would just keep the government open while they continue to argue about it. I mean, why is that not a good idea?

GALE: I think an automatic continuing resolution, which is what is being proposed here, is a good idea. I've proposed it myself.

What I don't like about the Republican bill is that it does the automatic continuing resolution, but it also builds in spending cuts. So I think it's a backdoor way to shrink the size of government without having Congress vote on that.

What I think they should do is maintain the status quo until they choose to spend at some other level.

KELLY: Why have past efforts to prevent government shutdowns - I mean, to legislatively make it impossible to shut the government down - why have they gone nowhere? It suggests to me that shutdowns can be a useful political tool.

GALE: Yeah. I think the issue is that Congress does not like to give up anything that reduces or weakens its political power. On the other hand, the budget process - and I use that word with air quotes around it - is a mess. It almost never works the way it's supposed to. Oftentimes, we don't even have an overall budget resolution. Many times in the last few years, we've come down to the wire or, you know, we had three shutdowns last year because they couldn't agree.

And so the notion of an automatic continuing resolution is basically an effort to not let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

KELLY: Can you imagine support for this Republican-led measure increasing if this shutdown continues to drag on and on?

GALE: I can imagine support for an automatic continuing resolution to build up significantly, but I don't think the notion of building in spending cuts is going to get bipartisan support.

KELLY: That's William Gale of the Brookings Institution. Thanks for taking the time.

GALE: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.