Taking away recess if Congress can't get its work done on time

  • 25 January 2019
  • NormanL

One aspect of the partial government shutdown that's tended to be forgotten is how it's a result of Congress failing to get one of its most important constitutional responsibilities done on time.

Congress funds government through annual appropriations (or, in the Obama years, ugly omnibus bills). Congress got most of the government funded for this fiscal year, but not all. There's no excuse for that. But a group of congressmen have proposed fixes they hope will ensure what we're facing now doesn't happen again:

Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA), along with Senators Lankford (R-OK) and Perdue (R-GA)...introduced the "No Budget, No Recess Act." The legislation would provide incentives for lawmakers to approve a budget resolution by the deadline of April 15 and all the appropriations bills by August 1.

The bill contains three major changes. First, if lawmakers fail to meet either deadline, no Member of Congress would be allowed to expend funds for official travel. Second, two quorum calls would be held each day in both the House and Senate: one at noon and one at 6:00 p.m, under the theory that it would be embarrassing for lawmakers to miss votes repeatedly and thus they would be incentivized to stay in Washington. Finally, it would be out of order for either the House or Senate to recess for more than eight hours until lawmakers satisfy the deadline they had missed. Hopefully, the prospect of losing the typically month-long August recess would move lawmakers to complete their work.

We're big fans of behavioral incentives. They tend to work well in economics (lower taxes, for example, spur economic activity). They also (generally) work with kids -- no dessert until you eat your vegetables. 

There's no reason why gentle, but insistent, prodding -- with the force of law behind it -- couldn't get our elected representatives to complete their biggest job on time each and every year.