On March 14, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee held a controversial hearing for all proposed solutions to get Congress past hyper-partisan brinksmanship and get a budget passed. One of the options on the table is the bi-partisan bill S-1981 – No Budget No Pay Act.
The goal of No Budget, No Pay is to impose a penalty on Congress for their failure to fulfill their most basic legislative responsibilities — pass a budget on time. The penalty proposed? Stop Congressional paychecks when the budget deadline of October 1 is missed. The legislation is written to ensure that not only will pay be withheld from congressional leaders when they miss the budget deadline, they will not receive back-pay once the federal budget is passed and signed into law. It’s the price they will pay for their blatant and flagrant dereliction of duty.
We have arrived at this point because of the hyper-partisan bickering and inability of Congress to pass a budget with substantive reforms. We have seen our national credit rating drop; stomached shutdowns and partial shutdowns of critical agencies and programs including the FAA and aid to our returning Veterans. We’ve endured massive Omnibus bills, emergency bills, and one-off spending measures. This includes the recent Jobs Act and Transportation Bill, both of which could have been accommodated had Congress followed the law last year and passed a budget for the 2012 fiscal year.
The current crisis management mode that Congress has the nation in is supported by Rep. Jim Cooper’s statement at the hearing, "Congress has missed so many budget and appropriations deadlines over the years that no one takes these deadlines seriously. We often fund programs on a short-term basis, sometimes month-to-month or even week-to-week. Political standoffs have even led to complete government shutdowns. This is inexcusable. We no longer have `one nation, under God, indivisible,' but `one nation, yet again, interrupted.'"
One of the naysayers of No Budget, No Pay is Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine). Her concerns are driven primarily by the sheer volume of wealthy individuals holding office and leadership positions (including several liberal Democrats). Collins questioned, “Given how many wealthy members there are — of which I am not one, regrettably — I wonder whether it would really have the kind of impact that its sponsors believe it would?” Unfortunately, her question only supports the view of the average frustrated American — Congress’ individual wealth alone (be it left or right) puts them out of touch with the daily struggles of everyday America.
Committee Chair, Senator Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), accurately framed America’s outrage with Congress’ inability to pass a budget when he said, "This proposal is like a legislative scream. As everybody knows, the public's estimation of Congress is at historic lows. And there's ample reason why that is so. Congress is just not fulfilling some of the basic responsibilities that the Constitution gives us."
Why the legislative scream? It has been 1,054 days since Congress fulfilled their duty and passed a budget within the time frames and parameters laid out by the Congressional Budget Act. Had No Budget, No Pay been in place during this time frame, America would have withheld over $250 million from our elected officials wallets and purses.
Salary witheld since last budget was passed with No Budget, No Pay:
In the same 1,054 days, millions of Americans have lost their jobs, taken pay cuts, lost their homes, and continue to struggle to keep their heads above water. Yet, our elected officials have cumulatively made millions neglecting one of their primary duties as an elected public servant.
We are now at the half-way mark of America’s 2012 fiscal year and continue to operate without a budget. Instead, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (R-Nev.) is bypassing the 2012 budget process and allowing the debt-ceiling deal to serve as his road-map even though the debt ceiling deal does not go into full effect until 2013, after the election. When questioned on the 2012 budget Reid said, “We do not need to bring a budget to the floor this year — it’s done, we don’t need to do it.”
Congress has continually demonstrated to the American public that they are completely unwilling to have the tough discussions, listen to the common sense proposals that have been put forth by bi-partisan teams, including the Bowles/Simpson plan. It’s time to send a clear message to Congress — it’s time to get to work and serve those people you claim to represent — No Budget, No Pay!
Footnote: Senate bill S-1981 and the House counterpart, HR-3643 is a grass-roots effort of over 500,000 citizen members and leaders of a relatively new grass roots organization, No Labels. S-1981 is sponsored by Senator Dean Heller (R-Nev.) and has the bi-partisan support of 7 Senate co-sponsors. HR-3643 is sponsored by Representative Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.) and has 36 co-sponsors, including GOP presidential candidate Ron Paul.
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