The move would prevent the Senate from shutting down the government over disagreements with the House, Republicans from shutting down the government over disagreements with Democrats, and the White House from shutting down the government over disagreements with Congress. Money would just keep flowing at a steady rate, until Congress were to pass a formal budget or appropriations bill and the president were to sign it.
Charles J. Sykes: A shutdown reveals the transformation of the GOP
For all that, the change would be marginal, not radical. Federal law already bars much of the government from closing up shop when financing lapses. And CRs are already a common, necessary part of the budget process: Congress has used them more than 100 times in recent decades, with CRs keeping the government open for full years a few times. Several states have automatic-CR-type provisions, and President Barack Obama signed a military-only automatic CR into law back in 2013.
The case for automatic CRs is straightforward: Shutting down the government is a painful, irresponsible, and stupid thing. Granted, the macroeconomic effects tend to be small, but they are not invisible and they are avoidable. Shutdowns have the potential to increase the jobless rate, bump up borrowing costs, and slow down growth. The worst pain is saved for the hundreds of thousands of federal workers and contractors affected, sometimes over and over again. Shutdowns mean lost wages mean evictions, higher interest payments, repossessed cars, and the like.
There is also the fact that voters tend to hate shutdowns, and want Congress to make deals to keep the government up and running. For good reason. Voters pay taxes that help finance a suite of services. Shutdowns deny voters those services. Right now, volunteers are desperately trying to keep the bathrooms clean at Joshua Tree National Park and human waste is piling up in Yosemite; the Smithsonian museums and National Zoo have closed; it is impossible to get a marriage license in Washington, D.C.; and entrepreneurs are waiting on their Small Business Administration loans. The longer the shutdown lingers, the worse the effects: late tax rebates, canceled contracts, problems with public housing, and so on.
Granted, politicians do pass CRs in a timely fashion much of the time. And while voters don’t like shutdowns, they don’t tend to hate them enough to punish the politicians responsible at the polls. For that reason, along with the leverage that shutdowns give politicians over one another and the motivation they give both sides to broker a deal, they tend to happen again and again.
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Moreover, getting rid of the threat of a government shutdown might make the appropriations process worse, with Congress doing even less budgeting since the cost of failing to compromise would be lower. The Hill might leave the budget on autopilot for years at a time, never coming to an agreement on how to shape, update, and improve the services that Washington provides. A stuck-in-time budget would choke off the necessary, natural expansion of federal spending as the country gets bigger and inflation eats at the dollar.