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Kaine introduces bill meant to flip the calendar on government shutdowns

U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., wants to flip the calendar on government shutdowns.

With a potential shutdown looming late Saturday night, Kaine introduced legislation on Wednesday that would move the start of the federal fiscal year from Oct. 1 to Jan. 1. The bill attempts to match Congress’s customary practice of adopting a budget in December and reduce the opportunity for political threats to shut down the government by prohibiting spending for non-essential federal services.

His legislation seeks to end the practice of adopting stopgap spending bills — known as continuing resolutions — that Congress has used to delay acting on a final budget in all but four of the last 49 years since it moved the beginning of the fiscal year from July 1 to Oct. 1 in 1974. The last time Congress adopted a budget by Oct. 1 was in 1997, 26 years ago, under then-President Bill Clinton.

“During my time in the Senate, Congress has never passed year-long government funding by the October 1 deadline and instead relies on short-term stopgap funding bills to kick the can down the road,” said Kaine, who was first elected to the Senate in 2012.

“This hurts us because federal agencies aren’t able to plan for the next year, making it difficult to carry out existing federal programs and activities that millions of Americans rely on.”

“That’s why I’m introducing a bill to reduce the prevalence of stopgap funding and eliminate the October shutdown threat by making the end of the fiscal year align with the end of the calendar year, when Congress has historically passed a full-year government funding bill,” he said in a statement announcing the legislation. “With this common-sense reform, we can provide more certainty for the American people.”

Virginia, home to 140,397 civilian federal employees and 126,000 active-duty members of the military, would be particularly hard-hit by a federal government shutdown. Kaine is among members of Virginia’s congressional delegation on both sides of the aisle who are raising concerns and trying to ameliorate the effect.

Rep. Jen Kiggans, R-2nd, a former Navy helicopter pilot, represents a district based in Virginia Beach with a significant military presence. Kiggans has introduced the Pay Our Troops Act, an effort to lock in pay for service members — including the Coast Guard — in the event of a shutdown.

“The last thing we need to do is cause more anxiety and threaten to not give them their paychecks,” Kiggans said in an interview Wednesday. “We need to provide them reassurance they will have a paycheck.”

A former state senator serving her first term in Congress, Kiggans supports “reasonable spending cuts” to the federal budget, but she thinks House Republicans aren’t providing enough funding for the Department of Defense in the appropriations bill they are trying to pass this week. She supports passing a stopgap spending bill for at least 45 days to get beyond Virginia’s legislative elections, which she considers crucial to Republican efforts to win control of the state Senate and hold their majority in the House of Delegates.

“First and foremost, we shouldn’t be shutting the government down,” she said,. “For Virginia, I think it’s especially important.”

Gov. Glenn Youngkin, speaking with reporters after an event Wednesday in Petersburg, said: “What’s happening in Washington is what seems to be a rather frequent discussion. “There’s four days left, and four days in Washington (is) dog years in yours. I think there’s gonna be a lot that happens in the next four days,” he said.

“We have hundreds of thousands of Virginians that gain their livelihood from employment with the federal government, not to mention the 150,000 military heroes that serve all over Virginia but particularly Hampton Roads,” the governor said. “And this is a moment of real anxiety for folks.

“I would just say four days is a long time in these negotiations. And we’ll see what happens over the next four days. But I would expect there to be some fundamental progress,” he said.

Kaine has been a vocal critic of attempts to use the threat of a government threat to extract political concessions on the budget. This year, some conservative Republicans in the House of Representatives say they will block a stopgap funding bill and shut down non-essential government services after midnight on Saturday unless they get spending cuts much deeper than those that the House, Senate and President Joe Biden agreed upon in the Fiscal Responsibility Act, which the president signed into law on June 3 to avert a potential default on the national debt.

“We just did a budget deal in May,” he said last week in a media briefing. “Live by the deal.”

His new bill, the “Modernizing the Federal Calendar Act”, isn’t his only attempt to prevent what has become an annual political rite before the end of the fiscal year. Kaine and Rep. Don Beyer, D-8th, who represents more civilian federal employees in his Northern Virginia District than any congressional district in the country outside of the capital itself, recently introduced the “End Shutdowns Act.” The bill would require stopgap funding to take effect automatically at the end of the fiscal year, while blocking Congress from acting on other legislation until it completes its work on the budget.

Kaine also pushed successfully to require back pay for furloughed federal employees after a 35-day partial shutdown in 2019 in a battle with then-President Donald Trump over funding to build a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico to keep out illegal migrants.

The requirement for back pay remained in effect for future government shutdowns, but it disrupts steady income for federal workers who aren’t paid on time, and doesn’t protect federal contractors who are critical to Virginia’s economy and work force.

While some essential public services would remain funded in a shutdown, he said that won’t help constituents who need assistance in receiving military veteran benefits, replacing a lost or expired passport, or getting an income tax refund from the Internal Revenue Service.

The timing of shutdown showdowns also is bad for businesses and communities that depend on fall tourism, such as autumn leaf-peepers along the Skyline Drive and Shenandoah National Park, or beachcombers on the Assateague National Seashore next to Chincoteague, a tourism-dependent town on Virginia’s Eastern Shore.

“If you miss the season, it’s not like everybody’s going to say, ‘Great, I’ll come back in November when the leaves are gone,’” Kaine said.