May 14, 2012
U.S. Senate leaders are negotiating an agreement to hold a series of votes this week on various budget proposals, including the latest one passed by the House and another one formed by tea party-backed senators.
None are expected to come close to passage, but the exercise is expected to give Republicans floor time to lay out their visions of a reconstituted and smaller government.
Democrats are not expected to offer a budget. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada has argued it is not necessary to have one because Congress passed legislation last summer designed to guide spending decisions over the next few years.
Against that backdrop, Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., is pushing to get a vote on his “no budget, no pay” bill that would cut off lawmaker salaries if they can't put together a federal budget and pass all the regular spending bills on time. Their paychecks would cease until the work is completed, and there would be no back pay.
Heller argued in a letter Monday to Senate leaders that the upcoming budget debates aren't serious and “these budgets are being brought up in order to fail.”
He said a get-tough approach exemplified by his bill is necessary to prod representatives who “are afraid of the tough choices that would help get our nation on the path to fiscal sanity.” Congress last passed a budget in 2009.
“I believe now is the time to consider whether we are willing to make this promise to our constituents,” Heller said in a letter to Reid and Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.
Heller's bill has 10 co-sponsors and it has been endorsed by “No Labels,” a group formed last year by a cadre of Democrats and Republicans, some of them former elected leaders, who say they have hopes of breaking through the gridlock that hampered Congress in recent years.
“if Congress can't make spending and budget decisions on time, they shouldn't get paid on time either,” said the group that has proposed a dozen ideas it says could change government.
“No budget, no pay” also has come in for criticism as a gimmick. Congressional scholar Norman Ornstein said individual lawmakers have little control over budgets, and failure to pass them often reflects “larger dynamics” going on in Congress.
Wealthy members of Congress who could live without a paycheck effectively could hold the less-well-to-do colleagues hostage, Ornstein argued in a March opinion column in Roll Call.
“To me it is pandering of the worst sort, playing to voters’ worst instincts about Congress,” Ornstein wrote.
Former Ohio Sen. George Voinovich, a Republican, issued a rebuttal a few days later, saying “no budget, no pay” would light a fire under lawmakers to ensure workable budgets get written.
“Right now, there is not nearly enough of an incentive for members of either side of the aisle to put pressure, public or private, on their leaders to bring to the floor a budget and appropriations bills that could attract bipartisan support and pass Congress.” Voinovich wrote.
” ‘No budget, no pay' would incentivize more members to get engaged to make the entire budget and appropriations process work again,” he wrote.