It's a little gimmicky. It may not pass. If it did pass, it might not do any good. It may not even be constitutional. But, for now, it's helping change the conversation in Washington.
Itís a little gimmicky. It may not pass. If it did pass, it might not do any good. It may not even be constitutional. But, for now, itís helping change the conversation in Washington.
The No Budget No Pay Act of 2013, passed by the U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday, would withhold paychecks from members of Congress if their house, the House or the Senate, fails to pass a budget by this April 15. They would get their money when they do pass one or, failing that, at the end of their terms.
Weíre talking about this idea because itís been almost four years (April 2009, to be exact) since the Senate has passed a budget Ė not a balanced budget, but a budget, period.
Budgets donít have to be followed, but they are important because they force Congress to at least pretend to set priorities. Because everything benefits somebody, each of the past four years, the federal government has spent more than a trillion dollars more than it has collected. Those deficits have helped the cumulative national debt reach $16.4 trillion, which is more than $50,000 for every American.
So a nonpartisan group, No Labels, came up with the No Budget No Pay idea. It slowly gained momentum, and then Wednesday the House approved it as part of a bill that extended the debt ceiling three months. Voting yes were all four of Arkansasí representatives: Reps. Rick Crawford, Tim Griffin, Steve Womack and Tom Cotton. Arkansas Sen. John Boozman announced his support on Wednesday.
Arkansasí other senator, Mark Pryor, hasnít said which way heíll vote, but Michael Teague, his chief of staff, listed Pryorís concerns in an interview and said he would have to see the final Senate bill before making up his mind. He might vote for it if thatís his only choice.
Pryor and others in Congress have problems with the bill for a number of reasons, starting with the fact that the 27th Amendment to the Constitution prohibits Congress from ďvaryingĒ its own compensation until another House election has passed.
Also, the House bill doesnít actually punish Congress for failing to pass a budget. It punishes each house that doesnít pass a budget. So the House could pass whatever it wants, the Senate could do likewise, and even if they couldnít bridge the difference, or didnít even try, everyone still would get their paycheck.
The Senate version on which Boozman and Pryor would vote is more airtight, and also more suspect constitutionally. Under its provisions, if the Senate and House canít agree on a budget by Oct. 1, everybody loses their paycheck and never gets the money back.
Despite its problems, No Budget No Pay looks like it might actually help produce a budget, which is a necessary first step to producing a balanced one. Sen. Harry Reid, the Democratsí majority leader, has said he will allow the House version of the bill to come to the floor. Sen. Patty Murray, chairperson of the Senate Budget Committee, said Wednesday, the day No Budget No Pay passed, that her committee will pass a budget resolution this year.
Maybe this is the only way to return Congress to regular order. While humans will sometimes sacrifice their own interests for the greater good, what really changes behaviors are personal rewards and punishments. You know, stimulus response-type stuff. Most members of Congress surely donít want the next generation to inherit bills it cannot pay, but what they really donít want is to have bills they themselves cannot pay. And since voters so far havenít been willing to turn them out of office for failing to do their jobs, this may be the only other option.
So no budget, no pay? Whatever it takes, though no budget, no re-election would be a lot better.
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Steve Brawner is an independent journalist in Arkansas. His email address is email@example.com. He can be followed on Twitter at @stevebrawner.