By Paul C. Barton
WASHINGTON — Saying members of Congress should stop “sitting around on our hands,” Sen. Lamar Alexander on Monday became the latest from Tennessee to call for lawmakers to forgo their paychecks if they can’t complete budget bills on time.
Alexander, a Republican, said he would co-sponsor the No Budget, No Pay Act introduced by Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev. Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Nashville, is the lead sponsor of the idea in the House.
The act would prohibit lawmakers from getting paychecks after Oct. 1 of any year in which they have not passed a budget resolution and the 12 appropriations bills needed to fund government departments and agencies in the next fiscal year. Oct. 1 is the start of the federal fiscal year.
So far in the second session of the 112th Congress, none of that has happened, and Congress has punted the issues to a post-election lame-duck session.
“You wouldn’t get paid at the ‘Grand Ole Opry’ if you showed up late and refused to sing,” Alexander told reporters in a conference call. “The same should apply to members of Congress who don’t do their jobs.”
The denial of pay under the proposal would last until all the needed bills were passed. Members would not be eligible for retroactive pay.
Rank-and-file members of Congress are paid $174,000 annually. A week’s pay is $3,346.
Alexander becomes the 12th sponsor of the Senate version, according to the Library of Congress website. Sen. Bob Corker, also a Tennessee Republican, signed on earlier this year.
In the House, Cooper’s bill has 78 co-sponsors, including Republican Reps. Marsha Blackburn of Brentwood, Diane Black of Gallatin, Scott DesJarlais of Jasper and Phil Roe of Johnson City.
“I am going to do everything possible to make it become law,” Alexander said, adding that he thinks the idea will continue to attract support.
Alexander said he has tried lobbying Senate leaders on the matter but to no avail.
“I am sure there is responsibility on both sides of the aisle,” he said.
“We’ve got plenty of time; we are just sitting around on our hands wanting to do something.”
Some of his fellow senators, he said, have likened it to “kindergartners playing in a sandbox.”
The government reform advocacy group “No Labels” also supports no budget, no pay, saying there have only been four years out of the past 60 when Congress completed its budget work on time.