Sixteen days after it began, the government shutdown ended. National Parks and federal office buildings across the country re-opened, and hundreds of thousands of government workers were back on the job. For some of those workers, and the population in general, however, there’s a new question. Is the country in for round two of a shutdown in January? The continuing resolution that sent funds to government agencies will expire on January 15th. Given the bitter struggle in Congress before and during the shutdown, the question hardly seems unreasonable.
Alaska’s Congressional delegation all voted in favor of the continuing resolution and eleventh-hour increase of the debt ceiling. Now that the measure is through, Senators Begich and Murkowski and Representative Young are all looking ahead to the upcoming negotiations on a long-term solution.
Senator Lisa Murkowski’s Communications Director, Matthew Felling, says that a major lesson from the shutdown is that there were no real winners.
“Anybody trying to score political points came away realizing that was the wrong way to look at this. Senator Murkowski repeatedly told people that, ‘This is not a sporting event. This is people’s lives being tangled up.”
At a time when many in Congress have drawn criticism for their handling of the budget and debt debates, Senator Murkowski has gained recognition for being one of three female Republican Senators who helped bring the deadlock to an end. Matthew Felling says that moderation and an acknowledgement of present circumstances was key in the agreement, and will be necessary going forward.
“Even though it is an acknowledged ‘kicking of the can,’ it is something where it is a lesson learned at the same time–that you have to moderate expectations. The ‘repeal and defund’ movement was not a valid, viable one in the political environment where the Democrats run the Senate and the Democrats inhabit the White House, so we need to live in the realm of the possible.”
Matthew Felling also referenced a recent interview with Senator Mitch McConnell, in which the Senate Minority Leader said, “There’s no lesson in the second kick from a mule.” Senator McConnell said, in no uncertain terms, that a second government shutdown is not on the table for Senate Republicans.
On the House side, Representative Don Young says that time played a major role in his decision to vote for legislation to raise the debt ceiling.
“We don’t know, really, what would happen. If we would have defaulted–a lot of people say we wouldn’t–I think there really was a threat to it, and I think most people decided, ‘Well, we just can’t do that.’ Now, having said that, did we learn anything from this? The one thing I have said all along is that this country is not being governed, it’s being run by a monarch.”
Representative Young says that the debt ceiling was his primary motivator, and that he believes that continuing resolutions should be dispensed with, and the normal appropriations procedure be taken up again.
“Will it happen? I doubt it, so I think we’re going to be right back where we were when we started. Nobody’s learned a great deal other than the fact that they should follow the rules, regular order. Not doing so, we’re going to be back in this box, again. It’s not a good way to govern a country.”
Senator Mark Begich agrees that getting back to a normal budgetary process is key, and says that he is cautiously optimistic that the upcoming bipartisan conference will lead to a long-term plan.
“What we’re about to enter into, now, is conference committee of the House and Senate. This is something that we’ve asked for over twenty times, and they refused to agree to it. Even though the House had passed a budget and the Senate had passed a budget, the next step is you get together and you solve differences. They did not want to do that. It took a crisis to get them to do actual regular order.”
Senator Begich says he realizes that there will have to be tough conversations and serious negotiations if the conference committee is to be successful, and he says he’s committed to the process.
“I think the American people–Alaskans–are fed up with it, and I’m fed up with it. I’m hopeful, and I’m going to do everything I can as a moderate here, and also as a member of the Appropriations Committee, to do whatever I can to push the envelope to get us to a longer term plan when it comes to the budget of our country.”
If all goes to plan, the results of the conference will be presented on December 13th. If a compromise is reached, it could mean a regular federal budget and appropriations process for the first time since 2009.