Congress just found the dumbest way to avoid a government shutdown

A sign outside the National Archives in 2018 describes the US government shutdown.
A sign outside the National Archives in 2018 describes the US government shutdown.Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP/Getty Images
  • Congress now appears likely to avoid a government shutdown this week.

  • The plan to do so would trade a large shutdown now for two potential ones later on.

  • If this sounds dumb, it's because it is.

Government shutdowns are dumb. It is genuinely good news that the nation is likely to avoid one this coming Friday. And yet, this being Washington, America's elected officials have found an exceedingly idiotic way to fulfill one of their basic responsibilities.

Under a plan backed by House Speaker Mike Johnson, the federal government would be funded through the new year. After that, different agencies would face different deadlines for potential partial government shutdowns. For example, funding for the Pentagon and veterans would run out on January 19. Funds for the State, Justice, and Health and Human Services department would be extended until February 2.

In short, the plan to avoid a larger government shutdown now is to trade it for the possibility of setting up multiple smaller shutdowns in the future. It's why the lawmakers tasked with writing the legislation that funds the government have strongly dissed the idea. The White House even weighed in over the weekend before House Democrats started to warm up to Johnson's plan.

Here are just a few of the best quotes about the plan.

"That's the craziest, stupidest thing I've ever heard of," Democratic Sen. Patty Murray, who leads the Senate Appropriations Committee, told reporters.

Murray's Republican counterpart, Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, said she had " a lot of reservations" about it.

"You'd have to go through the threat of shutdowns of part of [the] government over and over again," Collins said, per Punchbowl News. "So, it doesn't seem to me to make a lot of sense. But I'm willing to hear more about it."

Sen. Chris Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat, said Johnson's approach sounded "gimmicky" but he would be open to it.

The White House deemed it an "unserious proposal." It's likely now President Joe Biden will sign it into law.

Despite their criticism, some of these same lawmakers may vote for the plan. For Democrats especially, Johnson's plan comes without the poison pills such as slashing a Cabinet secretary's salary to just $1 or restricting access to abortions that often accompany bills that fund just the Pentagon or a collection of other departments. It's also the same strategy that helped lead to former Speaker Kevin McCarthy's historic ouster.

On its face, the plan avoids Congress' holiday tradition of ramming through hundred-page bills funding the government crammed with other unrelated measures all to jam lawmakers eager to flee the Capitol to see their families. It's almost impossible for your elected officials to read every word of what they are voting for. To be clear, that too is a bad way to govern.

Lawmakers from both parties understand that shutdowns are dumb. The practice of holding everyone from service members to vacationers wanting to enjoy a National Park hostage is unseemly. (I should note here that former White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, who also led the agency tasked with formally shutting down the government, thinks the Obama administration was too harsh in its handling of a 2013 government shutdown. But it is telling that we have reached a stage where triaging the fallout is the most likely outcome.)

The hostage-takers rarely get what they want. Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas didn't stop Obamacare. President Donald Trump didn't get more money for his border wall. And Republican Sen. Rand Paul's colleagues tore into him after he forced a brief shutdown in 2018.

"This is the stupidest thing to happen to Congress in three weeks," an unnamed Senate GOP aide told Politico at the time of Paul's move.

Trump might be responsible for the only great thing to come out of a recent shutdown. After funding runs out, both parties traditionally squabble over who is responsible for the calamity. But then there was Trump who boasted in the Oval Office in 2018 that he would "own" what was then a possible shutdown.

If it's bugging you, the stupidity has now become the feature. As I was writing this story about how Johnson's plan is the dumbest thing Congress has done, Sen. Bernie Sanders had to stop one of his colleagues from throwing down with a union boss. Then former Speaker Kevin McCarthy may or may not have elbowed one of his Republican critics in the back, and then bragged about how strong of a puncher he is.

After all, this is Washington, if something seems stupid now just wait a little bit. It will get dumber.

Read the original article on Business Insider