In the News
KENRIC WARD (Sunshine State News)
Amid growing public disgust with partisan gridlock in Congress, a "No Budget, No Pay" bill will be heard by a Senate committee Wednesday.
The measure would withhold congressional pay if members fail to pass spending bills and the budget on time, say sponsors Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., and Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Tenn.
“This is an historic moment for Congress,” said Bill Galston, co-founder of the bipartisan group, No Labels.
“It’s very rare for the institution to hold a hearing on ways to fix itself. The No Budget, No Pay Act is an essential step to help Congress move from point-scoring to problem-solving,” said Galston, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.
Though Brookings is a liberal think tank and No Labels is perceived by some conservatives as a Trojan Horse for the left, the No Budget, No Pay Act has garnered more than a dozen Republican co-sponsors in the House and Senate.
Rep. Steve Southerland, R-Tallahassee, one of those co-sponsors, said, "Any small-business owner, financial planner or head of household will tell you you can't run an effective and efficient operation until you have a budget blueprint.
"This common-sense legislation ensures that members of Congress are held accountable to the taxpayers and that Washington begins to live by the same standards that hard-working men and women live by every day across America."
Sarah Feldman, spokeswoman for No Labels, acknowledged "there have definitely been mixed feelings on it from members" of the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, which is hearing the bill.
"It’ll be a unique event -- it’s rare for Congress to address its own issues and ways to fix itself," she noted.
The dysfunction on Capitol Hill is nothing new. Congress has passed its spending bills on time only four times since 1952. In the last 14 years, annual spending bills have been submitted an average of four months late.
And, lately, the problem has gotten worse. The Democratic-run Senate has gone more than 1,000 days since passing a budget. Congress has instead operated on eight "continuing resolutions" in the past fiscal year.
"This is no way to run the largest organization in the world -- one that spent $3.6 trillion last year," No Labels said in a statement.
"Congress spends first and asks question later when it should instead be spending only after figuring out what goals it's trying to achieve."
As for lawmakers' pay, House salaries have stayed steady at $174,000 since 2009. Efforts to cut congressional pay have gone nowhere.
Rep. Bill Posey, R-Rockledge, has personally returned $4,800 to the Treasury each of the last three years. That's the amount of the annual raise Congress voted itself back in 2008.
"When Congress wouldn't approve cost-of-living increases for seniors, and congressional ratings are in the toilet, it's hard to justify a pay raise," said Posey spokesman George Cecala.
But Posey has not signed on to No Budget, No Pay.
"It could lead to more spending and more power by the president, who could veto the budget. Then what happens? Congress gives in," Cecala speculated.
Like Posey, other Florida Republicans embraced the intentions of No Budget, No Pay, if not its tactics.
A spokesman for Rep. Tom Rooney said the Tequesta Republican "supports the idea behind this bill and has worked on legislation to block automatic pay increases, prohibit congressional pay and backpay in the event of a shutdown, and to prevent congressional pay if the government defaults."
But spokesman Michael Mahaffey said Rooney is not co-sponsoring the legislation "at this time."
"As a general rule, he only co-sponsors bills that he has actually helped develop."
Rep. Cliff Stearns, R-Ocala, said, “Although it is very important for Congress to approve a budget resolution and pass the 13 appropriations bills on time, our major focus should be on controlling spending."
Stearns said the House version -- HR 3643 -- "is similar to my legislation that focuses on a balanced budget, HR 172, the Deficit Accountability Act, that would prevent a congressional pay raise in a year following a budget deficit.
"I believe that it’s more important to focus on deficit reduction and balancing the budget," Stearns added.
Reiterating a statement he made on the eve of last year's averted government shutdown, Rep. David Rivera, R-Miami, said he believes members of Congress "should be treated exactly as all other federal employees during such an event."
"Members of Congress should not receive, nor will he accept, compensation should such an event occur," said Rivera spokeswoman Leslie Veiga.
None of Florida's Democratic members of Congress contacted by Sunshine State News offered thoughts on the bill.
Neither Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., nor Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., responded to requests for comment on the Senate version, S 1981.
Advocates for the legislation say its premise is simple: If Congress can't make spending and budget decisions on time, its members shouldn't get paid on time, either.
If the congressional appropriations (spending) process is not completed by Oct. 1 -- the start of the fiscal year -- congressional pay would cease by that date, under the law.
But in an ironic twist, Rep. Cooper -- the lead Democratic sponsor of No Budget, No Pay -- voted against all five House budget bills last year.
"It's the Democrats who are holding up the show," Cecala asserted. "Maybe the bill needs to be pointed at the Senate Budget Committee, which has yet to produce one."