If Congress only reopens the government piece by piece, it could take until next spring

October 9, 2013

Ever since the government shutdown began, there's been a flurry of headlines about the agencies and people affected. Cancer patients are getting turned away from the National Institutes for Health. National parks have shuttered. Food inspectors are furloughed.


(The Washington Post)

Democrats in Congress say there's an easy fix: Pass a funding bill to reopen the entire government.

Republicans in the House, for their part, have taken a different approach. They've passed a few bills to fund some of the more popular and visible parts of government, while keeping the rest closed until additional negotiations take place. (Democrats, by and large, have rejected this "piecemeal" approach — with the exception of a bill to pay active-duty military, which passed into law before the shutdown.)

Since Oct. 1, House Republicans have approved six bills to reopen specific parts of government and have at least eight more on the way. That includes a bill to reopen the national parks, a bill to fund the National Institutes of Health and a bill to fund the Food and Drug Administration.

In all, these bills from the Republican House would provide about $83.1 billion in funding, or about 18 percent of the government. That would still leave much of the government closed however, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Small Business Administration (to name a few).

Here's a chart from Michael Linden of the Center for American Progress breaking down the House's piecemeal approach:

Linden, for his part, argues that the piecemeal approach is simply impractical — it will take way too long to reopen the entire government this way.

"So far," he writes, "the House of Representatives has passed one or two of these piecemeal funding bills each day. At that rate, it would take another 32 work days for the House to get through the rest of the funding, and that is assuming an average of $6 billion per bill. If the House chooses instead to continue to fund everything service by service, it will take more than 100 additional work days to finish, which means the full government will finally be up and running sometime next spring."

Now Republicans, for their part, have argued that the shutdown wouldn't actually need to drag on until next spring. They're happy to pass a funding bill to reopen the entire government so long as they get some additional policy concessions out of it. (Before the shutdown began, they were asking for changes to Obamacare.)

The White House, for its part, is opposed to this piecemeal approach — in part because it would take pressure off Congress to reopen the less visible parts of government. "If we do some sort of shotgun approach like that," President Obama said Tuesday, "then you'll have some programs that are highly visible get funded and reopened, like national monuments, but things that don't get a lot of attention, like those SBA loans not being funded."

Of course, Obama also acknowledged that it was hard to say no to a piecemeal approach (not least when people are getting denied cancer treatment). "Of course I'm tempted,” he said. “Because you’d like to think you could solve at least some of the problems if you couldn’t solve all of it.” But in the end, he wouldn't do it.

Further reading:

— My colleagues David A. Fahrenthold and Ed O’Keefe have a great piece about the GOP's piecemeal approach.

— Everything you need to know about how the government shutdown works.

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Neil Irwin · October 9, 2013