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Rep. Latham explains gov’t shutdown

from Iowa Congressman Tom Latham –

Tom Latham
Tom Latham
Many Iowans have called me over the past week with questions about the government shutdown and requesting my thoughts on the ongoing situation.

Below this note are the most common questions Iowans are asking me – and my answers to help keep you fully updated.

I continue to believe that common sense solutions can be achieved rather quickly when Washington sets aside senseless politics, partisanship and pandering, and commits to working together and listening to each other – and even more importantly – listening to the American people.

Are shutdowns of the federal government common?
Between 1976 and 2012, there were 17 lapses in Federal funding, a number of which resulted in full or partial government shutdowns. Despite the rhetoric coming from the Administration, these lapses were initiated by both parties, often as a result of policy disputes. In fact – five of the shutdowns took place during Jimmy Carter’s presidency when Democrats controlled the White House and both the House and Senate. Archived news articles on the various funding gaps suggest one consistent theme: the House, the Senate, and the President engaged in negotiations to work through their differences.

(Read a more detailed history of government shutdowns here.)

Why did you vote to shut down the government?
I did not vote to shut down the government. I did not want a shutdown, I never have wanted one, and I have done everything that I can to avoid that including supporting and voting for all four measures* in the U.S. House that would have averted a shutdown from ever taking place.

Our governing document – the U.S. Constitution – establishes a division of powers between the three branches of the federal government that gives each branch the power to decide independently what it wants to do or not do – regardless of what the other branches want to do. And, the legislative branch of our government is divided into two chambers – the House and Senate – that also are independent of each other when it comes to passing bills.

In order for any bill to be enacted into law it must be approved by a vote in both the U.S. House and Senate and then signed by the President. Even though the Senate and House had passed their own versions of a CR that would have averted a shutdown – neither chamber could agree on the other chamber’s version. So, the shutdown of government took place because the legislative process on a CR that would have continued to fund the government past September 30th never reached a successful completion.

*(Roll No. 478 – (09/20/2013), Roll No. 497 – (09/29/2013), Roll No. 498 – (09/29/2013), and Roll No. 504 – (09/30/2013))

Wait a minute – you said you didn’t vote to shut down the government – I was told voting for the bills you mentioned was the same thing as voting for a shutdown.

I did not support or vote for a government shutdown. Anyone who is telling you differently is intentionally oversimplifying a complicated and independent legislative process and framing it with their ideological and political opinion of the situation. Simply put – anyone who is telling you that is not making a factual statement.

Again, there was no vote that directed a shutdown of the government. The shutdown was triggered because the two chambers that make up the legislative branch of our government – the House and Senate – did not pass, or agree on, identical versions of a CR that would have gone to the President’s desk for his signature.

What are you doing to get the government going again?
I have joined with a bipartisan group of Democrats and Republicans to vote for 16 clean continuing resolutions (CRs) that open critical functions of government such as those that help and protect our nation’s veterans and seniors, nutrition programs for our neighbors in need and lifesaving research. All of these clean CRs were supported by every member of Iowa’s U.S. House Delegation – BOTH Republican and Democrat. These bills are passed and ready to be considered by a Senate vote that would quickly re-open these critical and non-controversial functions, while we continue to work toward an agreement on ending the full shutdown.

(See the full list and detail of bills at here.)

Can’t you just sign onto a discharge petition on the CR that will end this mess?

For those who are not familiar with a discharge petition – it is a legislative maneuver that basically forces the consideration of a bill in the House. This process can only move forward when 218 members of Congress sign their name to the petition.

Congressional rules would not allow the Democrats’ discharge petition on their version of the CR to be brought to the House Floor for a vote before October 28th at the earliest. I never wanted a shutdown of the federal government – and I refuse to let this government shutdown continue for another 17 days. Rather than putting my hopes behind an effort that drags out the shutdown for over two more weeks, I am working to re-open the government as soon as possible.

(Read more about this here.)

Are the debt limit and the CR the same thing?
They are not – and it is easy to be confused about this because both of these different issues are being debated and discussed at the same time right now in Washington.

A continuing resolution – more commonly referred to as a “CR” – is legislation that actually funds the functions of the federal government. It is legislation that is used to “continue” funding functions if one or more of the twelve annual appropriations bills have not been signed into law by the end of the fiscal year – which is September 30th.

The debt limit is the restriction on the amount of national debt that can be issued by the U.S. Treasury. Congress has always placed restrictions on federal debt to assert its constitutional powers of the purse.

Why can’t you Republicans just do what the President and the Democrats in the Senate want – why should they have to negotiate on anything?
As I mentioned in a previous answer – the U.S. Constitution establishes a division of powers between the branches of the federal government that gives each branch the power to decide independently what it wants to do or not do – regardless of what the other branches want to do.

Our government is currently a divided government – the Democratic Party controls the presidency and one-half of the legislative branch – the Senate. The Republicans control the House. The ideological difference between the parties and even between the people within their own parties means that very little can be accomplished without the give and take of negotiations. This guarantees that nobody in the process will get everything they want. But if nobody is willing to negotiate then the process will be stuck from moving forward.

I have often used our own state government’s success as an example of what can be accomplished when elected officials from different ideological backgrounds sit down and talk to find common ground.

In Iowa the Republicans control the House and Governor’s office – the Democrats control the Senate.

Iowans would be pretty upset if Governor Branstad declared that he would not – or had no obligation to – negotiate with the Democrats in the state senate. And, very little would ever get accomplished.

But because Governor Branstad, Iowa House Speaker Paulsen and Senate Majority Leader Gronstal talk and negotiate to find common ground – Iowa has experienced some great legislative milestones in recent years. Because the three sat down and found common ground we have seen landmark education reform and a historic reduction in taxes among the many accomplishments that their cooperation yielded.

I know – because of the example we set in Iowa – that there is no limit to the common sense possibilities that can be quickly achieved when we set aside politics and partisanship.

It is my hope that Washington begins to show that same willingness to work together for better solutions for our great nation and her people on the issues related to the shutdown, the debt ceiling and the many other challenges we face.

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