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A Common Sense Solution to the Budget Madness -- The Government Shutdown Prevention Act

Two thousand years ago, the apostle Paul wrote a letter to the Galatians and reminded them of the obvious fact, “you reap what you sow.” What you plant is what you will harvest.

For years, Congress has planted deficit irresponsibility, and now a huge debt overshadows our nation. 

Every year, regardless of revenue, spending has gone up. Government shutdowns loom multiple times a year. Budget planning is done in weeks and months, rather than in years and decades. Deficit negotiations stalemate and leave the intolerable financial status quo. 

The national frustration over the broken budget process is palpable. The federal government has run a deficit of more than $1 trillion in each of the past three years, propelling our national debt past the $15 trillion mark. 

The budget process is out of control and must be dramatically reformed. Agencies cannot plan, business leaders cannot forecast expenses for the next year and the economy is grinding to a halt. To achieve a better budget product, we must have a better budget process.

As a result of the 1974 Budget Act, the House and Senate create separate budgets, and then the two are reconciled to establish the final budget. This method worked at first, but it has obviously become a broken system. We are now rapidly approaching the 1,000-day mark since the Senate passed its last budget. 

Each year that Congress does not pass a budget and the corresponding appropriations bills by the conclusion of the fiscal year on September 30, they must pass a stop-gap funding measure known as a “continuing resolution,” which keeps the government running for a pre-determined period of time at the previous spending levels. Continuing resolutions freeze spending priorities with no incentive to pass a long-term vision based on a responsible budget. Regular order for the budget process has disappeared, creating a perpetual state of dysfunction.

In the House of Representatives, Republicans are answering the call for action. The House Budget Committee, led by Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), is unveiling a comprehensive package of bills to enforce stronger spending controls, enhanced oversight and greater transparency in the budget process. 

I am proud to join my colleagues in taking up this mantle of budgetary process reform. Throughout the year, congressional gridlock has perpetuated the threat of government shutdown, severely impacting essential government operations. 

Political in-fighting and uncertainty creates turmoil in our financial markets, leaves federal employees in doubt about their paycheck and could ultimately result in a shutdown of essential government services. It is time to stop the cycle. 

On Wednesday, I am introducing a reform proposal with Chairman Ryan, Congressman Jeb Hensarling and Congressman Todd Young entitled the “Government Shutdown Prevention Act.”'

The Government Shutdown Prevention Act is a simple idea; if a budget does not pass the House and Senate before the end of a fiscal year, an automatic continuing resolution kicks in with an across-the-board 1 percent spending reduction on all discretionary spending. This changes the default position from static or increased spending to automatic decreased spending, and it eliminates the destructive government shutdown menace. 

To encourage Congress to complete a substantive budget, the bill further reduces spending 1 percent every three months throughout the fiscal year until a long-term budget is signed. This provides the necessary motivation for Congress to complete a budget, as it is apparent that Congress will not do the right thing unless forced. This legislation eliminates shutdown politics and requires lawmakers to perform one of their basic responsibilities: keeping our government funded at responsible and appropriate levels that reflect the fiscal reality.

Over the course of this year, House Republicans have remained committed to rolling back our crushing burden of debt. We are now taking the next step forward by addressing the root cause of our debt: the broken budgeting system. If we plan right today, our country can still have a future of prosperity. We must begin by ending a spending-centric system and creating a budget process that mechanically shrinks instead of grows.

It is time to plant seeds of fiscal responsibility to reap a harvest of economic growth and stability. It is time to break up the hard ground of budget reform.

Republican James Lankford represents Oklahoma's fifth district in the U.S. House of Representatives. He is member of the Budget Committee.