It’s hard not to sympathize with the House Republicans’ latest budget proposal. They voted Jan. 23 to extend the debt ceiling for three months on the condition the Senate pass a budget, a fundamental task it has failed to perform for four straight years. And if the Senate and House don’t pass budget resolutions by April 15, the House bill declares Congress members won’t be paid until they do.
Republicans have roundly criticized Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid for years for his failure to pass a budget resolution. Yes, it would be difficult for Reid to round up 50 votes for the mix of tax increases and spending cuts required for a credible budget, and anything that passed the Senate would likely be rejected by the Republican-controlled House.
But for Senate Democrats to not even try to bring a budget forward for debate is politically clueless and constitutionally reprehensible. Do your job. Give Democrats something to stand behind and Republicans something to stand against. Better yet, get both parties and both chambers involved in writing a budget that can actually make it to the president’s desk for his signature.
We can certainly understand the sentiment behind the no-budget-no-pay provision. For most of us, missing a paycheck is a problem worth avoiding.
Unfortunately, the Senate is mostly made up of millionaires who have no need to ever cash their government paychecks. One Daily News reader suggested leaving the paychecks intact, but closing down the congressional perks - the gym, the barber shop, the prime parking places at the office and the airport. Now that might get their attention.
Then there’s the matter of the 27th Amendment to the Constitution, which reads in full: “No law, varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives, shall take effect, until an election of representatives shall have intervened.”
The amendment was first proposed in 1789, though it wasn’t adopted until 1992, and its point is clear. Members of Congress can’t vote themselves a raise - or a pay cut. Any change in compensation they vote for can’t take effect until the next Congress is seated.
Backers of the House proposal argue that the paychecks will just be held in escrow until a budget is enacted, so Congress members will collect it sooner or later. Of course, that takes some of the sting out of the penalty for inaction.
Still, the point of the 27th amendment is to avoid entangling Congress members’ public responsibilities with their private finances. The oath they took, and pressure from the public, ought to be enough to get them to do the jobs for which they were elected, without bringing their wallets into it.
Sen. Patty Murray, new chair of the Budget Committee, says the “no pay” provision won’t come into play, since she intends to produce a budget on time. Rep. Paul Ryan, her House counterpart, makes the same promise. After that, with their paychecks secure, Democrats and Republicans will have to tackle the hard part: combining their budgets into one document that can pass both the House and Senate, and be signed into law.