On Senate Floor, Portman Details Costs of Government Shutdowns
Portman Also Urged Congress to Pass His End Government Shutdowns Act
WASHINGTON, DC – Today, on the Senate Floor, U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) highlighted the findings of a nine-month investigation by the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, which he chairs, detailing the real-world costs of the last three government shutdowns. Alongside Ranking Member Tom Carper (D-DE), Portman found that the combined 54 for days of partial or full government closures since FY 2014 due to a lack of federal funding resulted in at least $4 billion in costs for taxpayers and 56,938 years of missed work by furloughed federal workers. Portman also urged Congress to pass his End Government Shutdowns Act, which would prevent future shutdowns by using automatic continuing resolutions (CRs) to keep the government open at existing funding levels.
Transcript of his remarks can be found below and a video can be found here.
“I’m here on the floor today to talk about a problem that’s far too common here in Washington, and that is federal government shutdowns. They don’t make any sense. And if we don’t do something in 12 days, Congress once again will face an unnecessary and costly government shutdown. We’ve got to avoid that. I’ve been through five different shutdowns since my time working in the George H. W. Bush White House back in 1990. Three shutdowns just over the last five years. None of them worked. I don’t know anyone who likes them now because we find out that when you shut down government, taxpayers actually pay more, not less. It might seem like if you shut down government, that’s good for taxpayers but it’s actually bad for taxpayers. They foot the bill for back-pay for federal workers for the days those workers weren’t allowed to go to work. And they pay for other things, too, that they wouldn’t have to pay for if Congress did its job, got its spending bills done and didn’t shut down the government. Delayed projects, late payment fees, lost productivity, deferred maintenance. It all adds up.
“Shutdowns also disrupt government services of course. And by the way, it’s not just core government programs and services at the time. That continues. So even now, here we are nine months since the last shutdown. You have the agencies and departments saying, 'Well, we’d like to be able to process your tax return or we’d like to be able to – as I found out last week - process your 501(3)(c) which is a charity return to give you nonprofit status. You can get contributions that are deductible. But because of the shutdown we’re still backed up.’ So they’re delayed and late. That hurts everybody.
“The federal contractors of course are hurt and a lot of those are constituents, private sector individuals. Federal employees themselves of course get hurt, especially those who are considered essential. Therefore, they have to go to work even though they’re not getting paid. And for a lot of people, whether it’s TSA personnel at the airports or our border patrol down at the border, they are doing their best to protect us and yet they’re told they can’t get paid so they can’t make their car payment, their mortgage payment, their rent. And it puts them in a tough situation. But again, it also hurts taxpayers and families and communities all across the country.
“No shutdown was more frustrating for me than the one we had most recently. It was the longest shutdown ever. It was 35 days this past winter in December. We all heard firsthand from our constituents during that month how they were affected by the shutdown. I heard from NASA engineers in Cleveland, Ohio, as an example. We have the NASA Glenn Research Center there. But I also heard from TSA employees every time I flew and I would ask them, ‘How you doing?’ And they would tell me and it was tough. Missed paychecks, mounting mortgage payments I talked about, medical bills in some cases were piling up. Morale was down. Families were hurting. Even after the government reopened and back-pay was sent to the furloughed workers, a lot of that damage had already been done. But what we’ve learned is it wasn’t just federal workers and their families who felt the effects of the shutdown. The economy as a whole suffered, too.
“The Congressional Budget Office has done some estimates of this. They estimated after the shutdown that it had reduced economic growth by a combined $11 billion for the fourth quarter of 2018 and the first quarter of 2019. Not only that, but CBO, the Congressional Budget Office, a nonpartisan group here that looks at these issues later projected that the rate of economic growth would have been 0.4 percent higher in the first quarter of 2019 than it was if not for the government shutdown. 0.4 percent. Sounds like a small number but that’s a big deal. That means economic growth in the first quarter of this year would have been 3.5 percent, not 3.1 percent. That’s a big deal. That’s billions of dollars in lost growth, not just because people weren’t working who should have been working but because there was lost productivity in our economy. Billions of dollars in lost growth just because we couldn’t figure out how to keep the lights on here in Washington, D.C.
“All of this is indicative not just of a loss of purchasing power for federal employees but also a serious ripple effect of federal contractors, small businesses, and others who serve the federal government. Shutdowns have another effect. Each time our government fails to fund itself, the public’s faith in our institutions including of course in this body, the Senate, the House, the presidency falls even further. Not just here but around the world. It just seems crazy, the federal government can’t stay open? People don’t get that. And I understand why they don’t get it. Now with the threat of another shutdown looming just a few weeks away, let’s not repeat the mistakes of the past.
“The reason that our Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations looked at this issue over the past nine months was to learn the lessons, to get the actual numbers to determine what the real impact was of the shutdown. This week the Permanent Subcommittee, which I chair, released a bipartisan report signed by me and Ranking Member Tom Carper. The result of which is what we’re reporting today.
“We learned that the total cost of the three government shutdowns that have occurred in the last five years alone have combined for a total of 54 days of partial or full government closure. During those three periods of shutdown, the price tag to the American taxpayer was $4 billion. So these are the three shutdowns that happened in the last five years, taxpayers had to eat $4 billion. So three shutdowns, $4 billion. Now, we also learned that a lot of that number comes from the loss of productivity, furloughed federal workers who are prohibited from going to work during that shutdown were owed $3.7 billion in back-pay which they got even though they weren’t working because they couldn’t work. But compounding that was at least another $338 million in other costs including extra administrative costs, lost revenue, late fees on interest payment, and other costs.
“On top of everything else, the workers who aren’t able to come to work represented a combined lost productivity of about 57,000 years of lost productivity. Think about that. Almost 57,000 years of productivity loss. Again, this is from folks who are federal employees but weren’t allowed to work because the government was shut down and later they get paid back. By the way, these figures, the $4 billion in costs to the taxpayers and the 56,938 years in lost productivity, those are relatively low numbers. It’s actually higher than that. You know why? Because although we got figures from 26 different agencies and departments and we sent this questionnaire around over nine months we did this research to all the agencies and departments, a bunch of them comprising less than half but close to half of the workforce refused to respond to us. Why? Because they said they didn’t know how many of the workers were furloughed. They didn’t know how many of their workers were essential employees. They didn’t know what the lost productivity was. That’s equally disturbing. It included the Department of Defense, the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Justice, the Commerce Department and EPA. They wouldn’t give us complete information about employee furloughs and back-pay because they said they just didn’t have the information. So the cost is even higher than indicated here.
“We don’t know how much higher but we know it’s at least this high. We’re sending letters to the agencies who were unable to provide the complete financial information related to employee furloughs and back-pay to find out why and to ask them how they plan to address those issues going forward. Our Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations is not done with its work because in the process we uncovered another problem which is agencies not even knowing the basic information about their workforce and what happens during a shutdown. Our report also documents examples of how the shutdown negatively affected the federal government’s ability to conduct important operations on a wide range of issues. I encourage people to take a look at the report.
“While we shut government down over fighting about border security, remember that was the issue at the time, whether we’re going to have a wall or not and what kind of funds were going to go to border security, the Department of Homeland Security had to delay important facility maintenance which had a serious impact on law enforcement officer operations and safety, including at the border. The lack of these critical maintenance and repair services actually made it more risky, even endangered the lives of some law enforcement officers, and made it harder to defend the border. So the shutdown certainly didn’t work in that regard.
“Meanwhile the Department of Justice was forced to cancel about 60,000 immigration hearings for non-detained aliens scheduled for the 35 days of shutdown. During the 35 days you couldn’t have the immigration hearings. 60,000 immigration hearings were canceled. We already had a big backlog of these hearings, as some of you have heard about, to the point it often takes a couple of years to have your case heard by an immigration judge. Now it’s even worse. Again, we still haven’t resolved that issue. That’s kind of a problem that’s compounded so that today you have so many of these hearings that are outstanding.
“A lot of my constituents back in Ohio were affected too. Let me give you an example. We have a poor neighborhood in Cleveland, Ohio. A guy wanted to start a deli there which was a great idea. It’s kind of a food desert. This deli was ready to go, ready to be put in operation but they couldn’t get the approval by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to use the machines to accept the SNAP benefits, food stamp benefits, so they had a really hard time launching. They couldn’t make much money because a lot of people in that area were SNAP recipients and the USDA couldn’t certify the machine to have it work because of the shutdown. That one was really frustrating for me.
“At the Piketon, Ohio Uranium Enrichment Plant, a lot weren’t sure if their health care premium payments would be paid despite being exposed to levels of radiation that could be dangerous to them. At a vineyard in Lorain, Ohio, Lorain county is a place where there’s more wine being grown. It’s exciting. This vineyard submitted six label requests to the Alcohol, Tobacco, Tax and Trade Bureau which has to approve these labels. The owners of the vineyard were left in limbo throughout the entire shutdown as they awaited for approval. They lost sales because in that business it’s all about the new thing. You want to have your new label out there, your new product out there, so that was frustrating to me, too. These are small business owners, again entrepreneurs taking a chance, trying something exiting. It’s been a growth business in our state. But they couldn’t get approval.
“The National Transportation Safety Board stopped an investigation of a plane crash in Ohio, in Wayne County, Ohio, that took the lives of two individuals in January because of the government shutdown. So it doesn’t just affect the border or TSA or others I’ve talked about. It affects a lot of our constituents. Ohioans applying for Customs and Border Protection Trusted-Traveler programs had their applications suspended during the shutdown and then faced long delays in getting their applications approved once the government reopened because of the backlog. Home loans across the state were unable to be processed because of the backlog at the IRS where employees are still working overtime and weekends to catch up on their work as the caseloads have double. Even last week, I talked about this nonprofit that couldn’t get its 501(c)(3) status because of the backlog, the IRS said, even though it happened nine months ago.
“There are only a few examples here I’ve been able to give you, but again I would encourage to you look at the report. Go on our website for the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations and take a look at it. There are so many issues and vulnerabilities that happened in all of our states. It is clear we need to find a way to keep this from happening again. Part of the problem we face here is this constant threat of shutdowns has become part of a norm. People are already talking about it 12 days from now. Are we going to shut down or not, which kind of has a chilling effect on our economy just to talk about it.
“For the past two decades, the government has routinely operated on temporary funding because we don’t get our spending bills done. Congress is supposed to pass 12 appropriations bills, which comprises all the agencies and department and last year we did a pretty good job of getting close to the 12. But you have to go back to 1997 to find a year when we completed all 12 of the spending bills. So we don’t complete a spending bill, have it signed off by the House and Senate and signed into law by the president. We do these temporary spending bills called continuing resolutions. The notion is you continue the spending from the previous year. They’re always short-term. So there’s discussion right now of in 12 days having a continuing resolution. That’s a lot better than a shutdown, but it’s not what we should be doing because at the end of that CR, we’ll have another impasse likely. That’s when you get another threat of a shutdown. Much better is to pass the actual appropriations bills.
“Since 1997 we’ve had a total of 117 continuing resolutions to fund government. Used to be very rare. Now it’s not just common, it’s the norm. So moving forward, I hope one thing we can all agree on is that we should do the appropriations process. Do the individual bills, have the debate. We’re going to have differences. That’s fine. At the end of the day, have a vote on the floor. Today we tried to go to the so-called minibus, a group of four different appropriations bills. It shouldn’t be that hard. We should be able to get these things done. I hope that we can agree that no matter what, we should not have government shutdowns. One recommendation our report makes, and again this is a bipartisan report coming out of our subcommittee. Our report says that the Congress should enact an automatic continuing resolution to prevent federal governments from shutting down permanently. Forever not having shutdowns by just saying, if you don’t get your spending bills done, you simply have a continuing resolution that’s automatic.
“During the shutdown during January, I once again introduced our legislation called the End Government Shutdowns Act, legislation that now has 33 cosponsors here in the Senate. That’s about a third of the Senate. It is legislation that has most Republicans, almost two-thirds of the Republicans. In the past it’s been bipartisan. This year it has not been. My hope is it will become that. I’ve introduced this legislation every Congress since 2010. My hope is that we’ll never have to publish this kind of a report again that talks about how many days we had shut down, what the cost was to taxpayers -- $4 billion in this case over the past five years alone. That’s 57,000 years of lost work productivity. We shouldn’t have to have those kinds of reports because we shouldn’t have shutdowns. But we do need to put legislation on the floor, have a vote on it to be able to stop it.
“Our legislation is pretty simple. It says you continue the spending from the previous year if you can’t come to an agreement and then after 120 days you reduce the spending by one percent across the board. Why? To give the appropriations committees, the people that write these spending bills, the incentive to get to work because none of them, Republican or Democrat, like the across-the-board 1 percent spending cut. They want to make the decision about where the funding goes and they don’t want the funding to be reduced. Then every 90 days it reduces it another 1 percent, again to give them the incentive to get their work done.
“There is other legislation out there, one of which passed the HSGAC Committee, our Homeland Security, Government Affairs Committee about a month and a half ago. It has some other elements to it that during a shutdown we’d be restrained from doing certain things on the floor. You couldn’t travel -- the government couldn’t travel, including the Executive branch. I think some of those bells and whistles that were put on it were not great policy, but I think it’s so important that we end government shutdowns, we’ve got to find a way to come together as Republicans and Democrats to get this done. I think we’re at the point now where if Democrats won’t support the 1 percent cut, which is what they’re saying, despite supporting it previously, some of them, and in House that’s a bipartisan bill, then let’s look at just an auto CR, just automatically avoiding the shutdowns and continuing the spending from the previous year.
“The point is we need to figure out a way to keep the lights on, not to have these shutdowns. We need to stop missing our deadlines. We need to stop putting our taxpayers in a bad situation where you do a shutdown at enormous cost to them. You need to put our federal employees in a better position where they’re not being furloughed and they’re not being told, you got to go to work but we’re not going to pay you. That’s not fair either. So let’s pass legislation to provide for a continuation of government spending, and let’s do all we can to try to get our spending bills done to avoid getting in that situation. I hope my colleagues on both sides of the aisle will not allow us to fall back into this 12 days from now, and I hope instead we will redouble our efforts to pass spending bills on time into the future and immediately look at legislation that says, let’s end government shutdowns forever to avoid this problem going forward.”