Even if shutdown is averted, taxpayers shell out ‘tens of billions’


US Capitol

WASHINGTON, D.C. (NewsNation) — Congress regularly brings the government to the brink of a shutdown, only to piece together a last-minute deal that keeps federal workers on the job.

But that routine showdown is costing taxpayers a lot.

“I’m quite confident that we’re talking about billions — tens of billions,” says Max Stier, president of the nonprofit, nonpartisan Partnership for Public Service.

“Even if the government isn’t actually shut down, the government, our government, is disrupted and thousands, tens of thousands of people are distracted from helping Americans in the way that they want to prepare for something that they should never have to worry about,” Stier says.

It’s a new reality in Washington, D.C. — Congress fiddles with budget numbers only to reach a resolution just hours before the deadline to avert a government shutdown

Congress hasn’t actually passed a budget since 1997. They just kick the proverbial budget can down the road every six months to a year.

And that gets costly.

Federal law mandates that every government agency prepare plans in case of a shutdown. And then update them. And update them again. Thousands of pages — from the Department of Justice to the Farm Credit Administration — of plans for a just-in-case situation.

The process takes up hours upon hours of public servants’ time to create and update the plans. And then there’s the delay in approving projects and contracts that only get more costly over time. It all adds up — to a lot of taxpayer money.

The last government shutdown took place in 2018 and lasted 35 days. Congress has avoided another one since.

But the planning continues: Who gets sent home? Who has to work? How to keep national parks safe without rangers? How to safely secure nuclear weapons labs?

All of those questions suck billions of dollars of taxpayer money.

“It’s a little bit like, in my view, when you’re in an office building and the fire alarm goes on because somebody has pulled it for no reason,” Stier said. “Everybody is happy that there wasn’t a fire, but that was an enormous amount of resources that went into people leaving their daily work, the emergency services people coming in. That’s what’s happening in the United States government whenever we have these spats over whether or not you’re going to have a government shutdown.”

There could be an answer to this costly ritual

The No Budget, No Pay Act — which has languished in Congress for nearly a decade — would prohibit paying members of Congress if they don’t pass a spending plan. If passed, lawmakers would be the ones without a paycheck, not federal workers.

The bipartisan group of senators who introduced the legislation last year said this measure would help end the last-minute budget dealings that always end up costing taxpayers more money.

“In Iowa — and in most places across the country — if folks don’t do their job, they don’t get paid,” said Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa. “Part of Congress’ job every year is to pass a budget on time, but despite being nearly $30 trillion in debt, it almost never happens. This bipartisan bill will help hold Congress accountable and make sure Washington politicians actually do their jobs.”

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