No Budget, No Pay is good policy

Last week, columnist Jon Ralston slammed Sen. Dean Heller for his sponsoring of the No Budget, No Pay Act, which would suspend congressional member pay if budget and spending bills weren’t passed on time.

Ralston thinks No Budget, No Pay is a cynical gimmick. He’s wrong.

The idea for No Budget, No Pay originated with No Labels, a group of over half a million Democrats, Republicans and independents dedicated to moving America toward a new politics of problem-solving. No Budget, No Pay was one of 12 proposals in our Make Congress Work! action plan, and it’s gotten the most attention (along with more than 50 congressional sponsors) for two simple reasons.

It’s good policy, and it’s good politics.

First, the policy. The most basic job Congress has is deciding how much money the government takes in and how much it spends.

You can’t do this job responsibly without a budget.

A budget is a blueprint. It allows us to take stock of our resources, to evaluate which programs are succeeding and which need to be reassessed or eliminated.

Unfortunately, Congress rarely passes budgets on time and, as a consequence, rarely passes spending bills on time.

Without a budget, Congress relies on “continuing resolutions,” which are stopgap measures that essentially enable Congress to spend taxpayer money first and ask questions later.

I’m sure Mr. Ralston would agree that this is a problem. So do most people in Congress.

Unfortunately, there is little evidence that current law or institutional incentives can facilitate a solution. And Mr. Ralston didn’t bother to offer any ideas of his own.

Enter No Budget, No Pay, which simply holds Congress to the same standard as Nevadans, who go to work every day knowing that they have to do their job if they want to get paid. We believe that No Budget, No Pay would provide the proper incentives and urgency to bring more order and timeliness to the budget and spending process.

Mr. Ralston suggests that it’s “laughable” to think that our rich members of Congress would be affected by a pay cut.

But plenty of Congress members need their salary to pay living expenses, just like everyone else in America. If congressional pay stopped, even those members who don’t particularly need their salaries would face pressure from their colleagues who do, as well as from the public.

Aside from being good policy, No Budget, No Pay also happens to be good politics. No Budget, No Pay is immensely popular with the American people, with 88 percent supporting the measure in an independent survey conducted by No Labels in late 2011.

Last week, the Senate voted down five different budget resolutions and shows no sign of actually agreeing on one in the weeks ahead, providing yet another piece of evidence that the budget and spending process is completely broken.

We think No Budget, No Pay can help fix the problem, and we commend Sen. Heller for supporting it.

Pauline Lamoya of Reno is a citizen leader of No Labels, a group of 500,000 Republicans, Democrats and independents dedicated to making our government work again.

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