Between now and November, politicians and political pundits will poke us repeatedly with "sharp distinctions." Some of these will reflect genuine differences; some will be election year artifacts. Amid the clamor that’s already begun, one real contrast may escape our attention, however. Let’s call it out.
Every American taxpayer knows that April is a month of accountability. Customarily (weekends sometimes shift the date) when April 15 rolls around, each of us had better submit our income tax returns – or else. Or else fines, penalties, badgering, and (for some, even) guilt.
What every American taxpayer may not know is that April is also a month of accountability for Congress. Under the Budget Control Act of 1974, April 15 is the deadline for the House and the Senate to adopt a mutually agreed-upon budget for the coming fiscal year. This budget tells the American people how Congress intends to allocate federal tax resources and provides a blueprint to guide the annual appropriations process that must be concluded by October 1. This year, the budgetary process has been marked by more posturing, finger-pointing, and digging-in-of-heels than substantive action. The mid-April mandate seems far from the congressional mind.
You can see the contrast: it’s the double standard between what is required of the millions of us who will spend April 15 deep in spreadsheets and receipts in order to complete our 1040s on time and what is accepted from members of Congress who appear ready to let a fourth consecutive year pass with no on-time budget.
We taxpayers know the consequences if we don’t meet our April obligations. But what will happen to Congress when they miss theirs? Fines, penalties, badgering, guilt? No, none of the above.
If you think this isn’t right, you’re not alone. More than 500,000 Democrats, Republicans, and Independents have come together in the growing No Labels citizens’ movement to reject the hyper-partisanship that deadlocks federal decision-making and offers poor excuses for Congress not meeting its fiduciary responsibilities. We advocate public accountability and a return to the common-sense bi-partisan problem-solving that kept America strong through many difficult times in our history.
This is not a feel-good movement. Our action plan includes legislation that dictates consequences for Congress missing budgetary deadlines. The “No Budget, No Pay Act” introduced in both chambers of Congress by a total of 46 sponsors will halt congressional paychecks and permanently withhold pay for every day after the start of a new fiscal year that Congress has not passed a budget and concluded the appropriations process.
If No Budget, No Pay is passed and signed into law this session, it will go into effect on October 1, 2013. That should provide plenty of advance warning to all affected that one onerous double standard is coming to an end. It should also provide welcome news for all taxpayers who care about accountability – regardless of where we stand on the vast spectrum of political perspectives that make up America.