WASHINGTON — Most lawmakers said they never wanted a government shutdown this month, but Rep. James Lankford actually tried to prevent one early this year.
Lankford, R-Oklahoma City, introduced a bill in March that would cut spending at federal departments and agencies rather than shut them down if Congress didn't get its budget work done, which has become the norm in Washington.
Agencies could actually go 120 days without taking any kind of cut, if Congress didn't pass their spending bills. Thereafter, cuts of 1 percent would kick in every 90 days.
That's a lot of leeway for lawmakers who already feel little pressure to complete their most fundamental job — passing a budget and the attendant spending bills.
Lankford's bill briefly became a legislative vehicle for House Democrats wanting to end the recent shutdown; the Democrats' plan was to substitute a resolution passed by the Senate to fund the government.
Before that, the legislation was ignored — for two years, in fact.
Lankford introduced similar legislation in 2011, after Congress came close to shutting down the government, but it languished in the House then, as well.
On the Senate side, Sens. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and Jon Tester, D-Mont., have introduced companion legislation. Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Muskogee, is one of 20 co-sponsors.
Here's what Portman, a former White House budget director, said way back in January:
“Our legislation ensures the federal government continues to provide the necessary services to its citizens while protecting against the panic and pressure of last-minute budget deals, allowing Congress to make the decisions necessary to get Washington's fiscal house back in order.”
Kony language in bill
Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Tulsa, is recovering from quadruple bypass heart surgery and missed the vote Wednesday night to reopen the government and raise the debt ceiling.
He criticized the bill in absentia and would have voted against it.
However, tucked into the bill was one of Inhofe's personal priorities: hunting down Joseph Kony, the head of the Lord's Resistance Army.
According to a Senate summary of the legislation, one provision would extend authority for activities to counter the Lord's Resistance Army, which has been linked to a multitude of atrocities in Uganda, including the killing and abduction of children.
Kony was the subject of a video last year that was viewed more than 100 million times.
Inhofe sponsored legislation in 2010 to authorize U.S. troops to help African forces hunt down and capture Kony.
President Barack Obama announced in 2011 that about 100 U.S. military personnel would be sent to central Africa to advise “partner nation forces” trying to remove Kony from the battlefield.
A spokeswoman for Inhofe, who is the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said Friday that neither he nor the committee learned about the LRA language until after the bill was made public.
However, she said that whoever inserted the language “understood the importance that these operations continue.”
Odds and ends
• Inhofe has been cleared to fly at the end of the month but may try to return to Washington sooner by land.
• Coburn is scheduled to be a guest Sunday on NBC's Meet the Press.
• The White House announced that it will resume tours next month of the east wing and executive residence; appointments can be made through congressional offices.