Congress Nearing Resolution on Government Shutdown, Hopefully

By: Gina Luke, assistant director, AVMA’s Governmental Relations Division

“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” – Albert Einstein

A culmination of complete dysfunction in Washington, D.C., has led to the pathetic state that we have been faced with over the past two weeks. About half of the federal government has been called back to work while the other half still sits at home waiting for a resolution to the fiscal turmoil.

Amid the chaos, it looked like Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) were nearing a deal early this week, but it fell to pieces because of defections among Senate Republicans and rumblings from House members that they will not go along with it. The House GOP instead floated its own plan to reopen the federal government by extending the current $986 billion level of spending through Jan. 15 and raise the debt limit through Feb. 7, while also convening a budget conference to talk about a broader budget deal. That plan is opposed by Senate Democrats because of policy riders that deny Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew the authority to use extraordinary measures to deal with an approaching debt limit and deny employer contributions to health insurance coverage for lawmakers.

As AVMA pointed out in an Oct. 4 press release, crucial veterinary programs that ensure the welfare of animals and protect the public from disease are short-staffed or have been halted because of the shutdown. This includes important functions at the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, the Center for Veterinary Medicine at the Food and Drug Administration, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the National Institute for Food and Agriculture.

How did we get into this mess? Since Congress failed to pass a budget by the Sept. 30 deadline along with its 12 appropriations bills, which fund all federal government agencies, we were left in the dilemma that we are in today. The U.S. House of Representatives has been fighting President Obama’s call to lift the debt ceiling and pass a clean continuing resolution (CR), which would fund government agencies at their current levels. Instead, GOP House leadership  selected more than a dozen agencies to fund through Dec. 15, including the National Institutes of Health, the Veterans Administration and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, to name a few. The Senate refused to look at any of the bills to fund individual agencies, since they did not completely reopen the government.

Although lawmakers have been locked in budget and spending battles for the past few years and have often resorted to passing CRs so that they have more time to negotiate funding levels, this strategy has a number of flaws. It creates uncertainty about the direction of federal programs and contracts, delays federal grant applications, and impedes government reports that are needed for a variety of activities, such as agricultural trade.

A solution to the shutdown and debt limit impasse has proved to be elusive. One can only hope that rational heads prevail and a solution is found before Oct. 17, which is when Secretary Lew says the government will have exhausted all measures to stave off default.

This cycle of going from one crisis and deadline to the next is insane. It is no way to run a government and frankly, it is harming our country. With time running short, it is time for Congress and the president to work constructively to open the government, avoid default, and resolve the recurring issues surrounding the budget. Let’s hope our leaders in Congress can soon come to an agreement so that our nation’s federal employees who promote the health and welfare of animals, guard the country against disease outbreaks and ensure food safety can get back to work.

AVMA Fields Press Inquiries
In case you missed it, AVMA’s Governmental Relations Division has been answering a number of media requests regarding how the government shutdown affects veterinary medicine. Below are links to some of these recent articles:

For more information, see AVMA’s press releases from Oct. 4 and Oct. 8.

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