Senator James Lankford (R-OK) today spoke on the Senate floor in support of his bipartisan Prevent Government Shutdowns Act, especially in light of the fact that the federal government runs out of funding in 16 days unless Congress votes to fund the government either through appropriations bills or a continuing resolution.
Lankford remarked that we are about to cross the $33 trillion-mark for national debt and that our spending has accelerated from just over $2 trillion to just over $6 trillion in the last 20 years. It is estimated that the US will have $4.8 trillion in revenue this year, yet we’ll spend an estimated $6.4 trillion—that is not sustainable—and Lankford wants to force Congress to have the difficult conversations about spending but take government shutdowns off the table as a negotiating tactic for both parties.
The bill requires that if appropriations work is not done on time, all Members of Congress must stay in Washington, DC, and work until the spending bills are completed. This will prevent a government-wide shutdown, continue critical services and operations for Americans, and hold federal workers harmless while Congress completes appropriations.
Upon a lapse in government funding, the bill would implement an automatic Continuing Resolution (CR), on rolling 14-day periods, based on the most current spending levels enacted in the previous fiscal year. This would prevent a shutdown and continue critical services and operations.
We seem to forget at times in this body the issues that press around us, that the one that seems to get slipped under the rug most of the time is national debt—where we are and how we’re going to try to address this in the days ahead.
The conversation that comes up, it seems to be, on a regular basis now is: are we going to have a government shutdown? And that conversation about a government shutdown ends up being the very small portion of the very large debt that we face. And the challenge is, how do we actually address that based on its size?
Let me give a little bit of context. We’re right now preparing within days to cross into the $33 trillion in total federal debt–$33 trillion. To give some context of that acceleration in federal debt and what is happening in this time period, from the time of Andrew Jackson, which was the last president that was president when we had no debt at all—from the time of Andrew Jackson to Ronald Reagan, our nation accumulated $1 trillion in total debt, from Andrew Jackson to Reagan—$1 trillion in total debt.
From Reagan to the present, now we are $33 trillion in total debt. We are on a rapid acceleration of debt that has not slowed.
To give you again the picture of where things have gone just in the last several years, if you go back 20 years ago to 2003, our total spending was just over $2 trillion. If you go back to 2013, 10 years ago, our total spending was less than $3.5 trillion. Our spending this year will be right at $6.5 trillion. So in the past 20 years, our spending has increased from just over $2 trillion to $6.5 trillion.
To give you just the acceleration in spending, just in the last few years, if I were to go back to 2018 before COVID, 2018 time period our total spending was just over $4 trillion. This year’s estimated spending is just under $6.5 trillion. That’s $2.5 trillion of accelerated spending just from 2018 to now.
To again set this in context, the revenue that’s coming into the federal Treasury this year is estimated at $4.8 trillion–$4.8 trillion. We’re spending an estimated $6.4 trillion.
Now, that’s a lot of numbers, but let me give you one just as a takeaway. We have almost $1.5 trillion of deficit, that is overspending, just this year. Some estimates depending on what happens in the next few weeks, it could be almost $2 trillion in total overspending just this year.
To put this in context, with the record revenue that’s coming in this year at about $4.8 trillion, if we were spending the same this year as we did in 2018, a short five years ago. If we were spending the same this year as we were in 2018 prior to COVID, we would have a $700 billion surplus this year rather than an almost $2 trillion deficit—this year—because the record amount of revenue coming in this year compared to what our spending was five years ago, we would have been in surplus this year. But we’re not, and it’s at $1.5 trillion over that.
We have a very serious issue. We should have very hard conversations about our revenue, about our spending, about the direction that we’re actually heading, and about how do we get out of a $33 trillion debt.
This is not going to take a year or two years. I’ve had folks that I’ve talked to recently even that have talked about the time in the early 90s and when we were out of balance at about $100 billion and the work that was done by the Bush Administration and the Clinton Administration to be able to work to get us back to a balance. Two Administrations in a row had to work on that, but here’s the frightening thing: our overspending this year is more than the total spending during the Clinton Administration—just our overspending this year.
This is not going to be a simple process to be able to come out of. This is not going to be two Administrations in a row making agreements to be able to get back to balance. This is going to take decades. And my concern is, is that many here are not willing to start the first year of decades of work to be able to get us out. So we have work to do on this.
Myself and Senator Maggie Hassan, a Democrat from New Hampshire. She and I sat down several years ago and started having a conversation about how do we end government shutdowns and actually get into a real dialogue about how do we actually deal with debt and deficit issues. From that productive conversation, she and I created a piece of legislation that’s all designed just to prevent government shutdowns.
All the conversation right now among the media seems to be about: is a government shutdown coming at the end of this year? And we should not have one at the end of this month, the end of the fiscal year. We should continue to be able to keep going, but we should also have the debate of what direction are we going to go.
So Senator Hassan and I came up with a simple proposal. It’s not a partisan proposal; it’s s a completely nonpartisan proposal.
It is simple proposal, quite frankly, that is equivalent to two things I had growing up. One was if you don’t finish your homework at school, you have to actually stay after class to be able to finish that. If you don’t finish all your work that you had to get done then, stay after class, keep finishing it, when you are done, then you can leave out.
The second one was, when my older brother and I would get into an argument, which of course as brothers we never did get into an argument. But in that rare moment we got into an argument, my mom would put the two of us in a room and would say, ‘You guys settle this and when you’re done, you can come out.’
We slammed those two ideas into one simple proposal about how to end government shutdowns.
If we get to the end of the fiscal year, and the appropriations work is not done, like it is this year, we stay in session seven days a week, and the only bills that can actually come up that actually can be called up during that time period are appropriations bills.
The second part of it is, there is no travel for anyone, so we couldn’t fly home and fly back. So no official or campaign funds could be used to be able to travel. So we’re in session seven days a week, the only bills that are allowed to be brought up are Appropriations bills, there is no travel. And the next part of it is simple: there’s what’s called a Continuing Resolution to maintain the government to be open so that the American people and federal workers are held harmless. It puts the pressure on this room. Not on federal workers that are working for FAA, not on people that are working for the Housing Administration, not on our Border Patrol. Those individuals don’t get a vote on this this. They should not feel the pressure of a government shutdown.
We can keep the system moving while we still have our arguments to be able to resolve those things.
Why is this so important? A couple of reasons. One is we’re the United States of America. We should actually have an organized system because the rest of the world watches us to try to figure out how to do government. And when we look dysfunctional, the rest of the world says, how are we going to figure this out if even the Americans can’t figure this out? Now, we as Americans lose track of that at times, but the rest of the world is watching us.
We should have our arguments. We are a representative republic. Every single voice counts, and we don’t all agree. Great, bring it. That demonstrates us at our best. But let’s resolve those issues, rather than having government shutdowns and chaos ensuing because we need to set a better example for the world.
Second issue, much closer to home, we need to stop having government shutdowns, because the American people are calling in to federal agencies and expecting someone to answer the phone, expecting to get help, whether it be passports, permits, whatever process it may be that they have to interact with the federal government. They need to get somebody to answer the phone and to be able to resolve that. This puts the American people struggling to be able to get basic answers.
The third is the federal workforce. We have millions of people that work in the federal family. They work all over the country. And when there’s a government shutdown, there’s two sets of things that occur. If you’re a contractor, you’re just out. Those contractors may be doing janitorial services in one of our buildings, or supplying food services to someone. They’re just out. They don’t get repaid. They just lose money, period.
Those on the federal payroll, they don’t get their check during that time period. And they have this crazy, weird essential/nonessential, some people laid-off, some not. But everyone is in chaos in that process. For those folks that are in the federal family, even though they may be declared essential or nonessential, you know what their car payment still comes in, their mortgage still comes in, they’v still got to put food on the table, but they’re not getting a check during the time of a government shutdown.
And so those individuals that live paycheck to paycheck, like many Americans do, suddenly have a gap, not by a fault of their own, but because this body couldn’t resolve what we were going to do on the budgeting issues.
And the fourth issue I’ve already partially mentioned on that, and that’s the contractors. Let me give you an example of what this means. Our southern border right now has the worst border crisis we’ve ever faced as a nation.
To give you perspective on it, in the last few days, we’ve had up to 9,000 people illegally crossing our border a day—a day, in the last few days. We had one border crossing area in Tucson where they had 2,000 people that crossed in a day. Those folks are being cut loose and released into the country. But it is chaos along our border. Our Border Patrol and CBP, and all those folks that are law enforcement, are doing their best to be able to watch for safety and security of Americans, while literally thousands of people are being cut loose into the country.
They depend on some folks that are contractors in that area, to help sometimes with transportation, with processing, with food, with medical care, all those things. Those contractors are very important to be able to help our Border Patrol in the chaos of what’s happening. When there’s a government shutdown, those contractors aren’t going to be there. And the chaotic border that we have now, will be even more chaotic at that moment. That should not happen, because we can’t resolve our differences here. We need the national security on that…
Two weeks ago, our nation crossed a threshold that most people just missed. We had just over 6 million people that have illegally crossed our southern border in less than three years under the Biden Administration—just over 6 million people. That number is the same number, that 6 million number, is the same as both terms of the Obama Administration and the Trump Administration combined.
The Biden Administration has allowed more people to fill legally cross our border in less than three years than the previous 12 years along our border.
Those Border Patrol need help right now. They don’t need a government shutdown. They need help coming alongside them. So, what Senator Hassan and I have done is a very simple proposal: let’s stop government shutdowns. Let’s end those. Let’s not have the drama and countdown clocks on 24-hour news cable tv.
Let’s have the arguments and talk through the appropriations that need to be done. That’s work we’re required to do. But let’s hold the federal workers harmless in the process. Let’s hold federal contractors harmless in the process. And so we can settle the issues, do real planning.
This ending government shutdowns bill is very straightforward. We just want to prevent government shutdowns. We just want to be able to stop the chaos and actually be able to show the American people this body can have the arguments, resolve our differences, and move forward. This is something we should be bringing to a vote. This is something that has wide bipartisan support. Let’s resolve this piece while we’ve still got more to be done.