The No Budget, No Pay Act

[ Posted Wednesday, March 14th, 2012 – 16:26 UTC ]

Both houses of Congress are currently considering a bill which, in my humble estimation, would be wildly popular with the public -- if they knew about it, that is. This is a truly non-partisan issue, one that pits every taxpayer in the country against the 535 members of Congress themselves -- regardless of their party affiliation. The idea is a simple one, as evidenced by the bill's official title: the "No Budget, No Pay Act."

That's it in a nutshell. The title is so good, it barely needs explaining. If Congress doesn't pass a completed budget on time -- both the budget blueprint and the 12 appropriations bills necessary -- then when the new federal fiscal year dawns on the first of October, they stop getting paid. Their paychecks halt until the budget is complete, and they are not allowed to (later on, under the cover of night) award themselves retroactive pay for this period.

Quick survey: how many of you, upon reading that last paragraph, thought that sounds like a dandy idea? Passing a budget is one of the most important duties which Congress has. Yet, year after year, they fail to perform their duties on time. Some years there are "continuing resolutions" which allow the government to keep spending money, essentially on autopilot, and some years there are gigantic budget battles -- but, either way, Congress normally fails to meet the deadline. No matter which party happens to be in charge, I should point out.

I personally am a big fan of the idea. In fact, I've written three columns over the years with almost exactly the same title as the bill. The first I wrote in 2007, when Democrats controlled both houses (as I said, this is a non-partisan issue). I concluded this article with:

Luckily, there's an easy solution to this problem. Well, easy to state and easy to understand, but perhaps impossible politically -- seeing as how it would have to be written into law by the very people who will be directly affected. But one can always hope.

Here's how to fix the problem: if the budget isn't in place by October 1st each year, then everything in the entire federal government could be funded from that point on by a continuing resolution with one exception -- the paychecks of everyone in Congress and the president would end, until a full budget was in place. We, the people (their employers) would cut their pay until they got the job done. Want to bet that would speed the process up?

No budget, no paycheck.

No problem.

The second time I wrote about this was in 2011, when California had just passed a ballot initiative which forced this law upon our state government. California was even worse, in some ways, than the federal government. In the past decade, records were set for how long our state limped along without a budget -- six months, eight months, nine months.... The state couldn't just print money to paper over the gap, either, which resulted in state employees getting paid (you cannot make this sort of thing up) with "IOUs." The people put an end to such irresponsibility and gross incompetence, though, with the new law.

Which I wrote about in my third article, again calling for such action on a national scale:

Since Controller John Chiang was the guy who signed the paychecks, he had the power to stop them. Which he did.

And for the next twelve days, California legislators worked for free. They each lost an average of $4,830 in that period. Some of them (Democrats and Republicans) even had the gall to whine about not being paid in public. This was met with precisely zero sympathy from the public.

Yesterday, they passed a budget. It did not rely on gimmicks or budgetary tricks -- another first in modern California budgets -- and it gave [Governor Jerry] Brown many of the things he had been fighting for over the past six months or so. And the legislators cannot award themselves the back pay they missed -- that's one of the beautiful things about the new law.

In short, it worked. Exactly how it was intended to work: it lit a fire under the legislators to get their act together and do their job. The budget was late by less than two weeks -- quite an improvement from eight or nine months. In fact, I'd be willing to bet that this year a budget appears on time.

But now I'm not just a lonely voice crying in the wilderness. Today, the "No Budget, No Pay Act" was debated in a Senate committee. At this writing, the bill has six co-sponsors: Senators John Boozman, Richard Burr, Saxby Chambliss, Joe Manchin, Olympia Snowe, and David Vitter. In the House, the bill has 34 co-sponsors.

At first glance, this might seem like a partisan stunt. Senate Republicans have been making political hay over how many days the Senate has gone without completing a budget for years now (their count is over 1,000 days). Senator Joe Manchin is the only Democratic co-sponsor in his chamber, but the House bill has attracted a more bipartisan group.

In fact, one of the House co-sponsors is the Populist Caucus Chair, Representative Bruce Braley (D-IA). I contacted his office because I thought he could provide a bit of balance from the Senate bill, and Braley did not mince words: "In the real world, there are real consequences if deadlines aren't met. There should also be real consequences if Congress can't meet its deadlines. I can think of few stronger incentives to get politicians to do their job than tying their pay to their job performance. This idea is a powerful way to restore a little common sense to a Congress that has none."

A good idea is a good idea, no matter which side of the political aisle comes up with it. Democrats shouldn't be put off by the bill, and should support it on its merits. To put it another way: election year grandstanding? I don't care. Pass this bill.

The only possible way that this bill will ever become law is if it becomes widely known among the voting public at large. If the media did story after story on what an excellent and commonsense reform it truly would be (complete with the example of California), then the populace as a whole would overwhelmingly support it in true bipartisan fashion. Congress' approval rating is in single digits, remember.

The people will have to shame Congress into action, though. Because they must vote to attach this limit to their own pay. Which is not exactly in their self-interest, as can be plainly seen, but which is also the only constitutional way for it to happen.

So head on over to the Library of Congress' website, and do a search on either "S.1981" or "H.R.3643" (or "No Budget, No Pay Act") to see who has signed on as cosponsor of the bill. If your representatives or senators aren't on the list, then call them up and ask why they aren't! Because public pressure is the only way this is ever going to happen.

-- Chris Weigant


Cross-posted at Business Insider
Cross-posted at The Huffington Post

Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


9 Comments on “The No Budget, No Pay Act”

  1. [1] 
    Michale wrote:

    Speaking of Budgets and 5xx Members of our government...

    I came across this and thought it was just dandy...

    545 vs. 300,000,000 People
    -By Charlie Reese

    Politicians are the only people in the world who create problems and then campaign against them.

    Have you ever wondered, if both the Democrats and the Republicans are against deficits, WHY do we have deficits?

    Have you ever wondered, if all the politicians are against inflation and high taxes, WHY do we have inflation and high taxes?

    You and I don’t propose a federal budget. The President does.

    You and I don’t have the Constitutional authority to vote on appropriations. The House of Representatives does.

    You and I don’t write the tax code, Congress does.

    You and I don’t set fiscal policy, Congress does.

    You and I don’t control monetary policy, the Federal Reserve Bank does.

    One hundred senators, 435 congressmen, one President, and nine Supreme Court justices equates to 545 human beings out of the 300 million are directly, legally, morally, and individually responsible for the domestic problems that plague this country.

    I excluded the members of the Federal Reserve Board because that problem was created by the Congress. In 1913, Congress delegated its Constitutional duty to provide a sound currency to a federally chartered, but private, central bank.

    I excluded all the special interests and lobbyists for a sound reason. They have no legal authority. They have no ability to coerce a senator, a congressman, or a President to do one cotton-picking thing. I don’t care if they offer a politician $1 million dollars in cash. The politician has the power to accept or reject it. No matter what the lobbyist promises, it is the legislator’s responsibility to determine how he votes.

    Those 545 human beings spend much of their energy convincing you that what they did is not their fault. They cooperate in this common con regardless of party.

    What separates a politician from a normal human being is an excessive amount of gall. No normal human being would have the gall of a Speaker, who stood up and criticized the President for creating deficits. The President can only propose a budget. He cannot force the Congress to accept it.

    The Constitution, which is the supreme law of the land, gives sole responsibility to the House of Representatives for originating and approving appropriations and taxes. Who is the speaker of the House? John Boehner. He is the leader of the majority party. He and fellow House members, not the President, can approve any budget they want. If the President vetoes it, they can pass it over his veto if they agree to.

    It seems inconceivable to me that a nation of 300 million cannot replace 545 people who stand convicted — by present facts — of incompetence and irresponsibility. I can’t think of a single domestic problem that is not traceable directly to those 545 people. When you fully grasp the plain truth that 545 people exercise the power of the federal government, then it must follow that what exists is what they want to exist.

    If the tax code is unfair, it’s because they want it unfair.

    If the budget is in the red, it’s because they want it in the red.

    If the Army & Marines are in Iraq and Afghanistan it’s because they want them in Iraq and Afghanistan …

    If they do not receive social security but are on an elite retirement plan not available to the people, it’s because they want it that way.

    There are no insoluble government problems.

    Do not let these 545 people shift the blame to bureaucrats, whom they hire and whose jobs they can abolish; to lobbyists, whose gifts and advice they can reject; to regulators, to whom they give the power to regulate and from whom they can take this power. Above all, do not let them con you into the belief that there exists disembodied mystical forces like “the economy,” “inflation,” or “politics” that prevent them from doing what they take an oath to do.

    Those 545 people, and they alone, are responsible.

    They, and they alone, have the power.

    They, and they alone, should be held accountable by the people who are their bosses.

    Provided the voters have the gumption to manage their own employees…

    We should vote all of them out of office and clean up their mess!

    Charlie Reese is a former columnist of the Orlando Sentinel Newspaper.

    This might be funny if it weren’t so true.
    Be sure to read all the way to the end:
    Tax his land,
    Tax his bed,
    Tax the table,
    At which he’s fed.

    Tax his tractor,
    Tax his mule,
    Teach him taxes
    Are the rule.

    Tax his work,
    Tax his pay,
    He works for
    peanuts anyway!

    Tax his cow,
    Tax his goat,
    Tax his pants,
    Tax his coat.

    Tax his ties,
    Tax his shirt,
    Tax his work,
    Tax his dirt.

    Tax his tobacco,
    Tax his drink,
    Tax him if he
    Tries to think.

    Tax his cigars,
    Tax his beers,
    If he cries
    Tax his tears.

    Tax his car,
    Tax his gas,
    Find other ways
    To tax his ass.

    Tax all he has
    Then let him know
    That you won’t be done
    Till he has no dough.

    When he screams and hollers;
    Then tax him some more,
    Tax him till
    He’s good and sore.

    Then tax his coffin,
    Tax his grave,
    Tax the sod in
    Which he’s laid…

    Put these words
    Upon his tomb,
    ‘Taxes drove me
    to my doom…’

    When he’s gone,
    Do not relax,
    Its time to apply
    The inheritance tax.
    Accounts Receivable Tax
    Building Permit Tax
    CDL license Tax
    Cigarette Tax
    Corporate Income Tax
    Dog License Tax
    Excise Taxes
    Federal Income Tax
    Federal Unemployment Tax (FUTA)
    Fishing License Tax
    Food License Tax
    Fuel Permit Tax
    Gasoline Tax (currently 44.75 cents per gallon)
    Gross Receipts Tax
    Hunting License Tax
    Inheritance Tax
    Inventory Tax
    IRS Interest Charges IRS Penalties (tax on top of tax)
    Liquor Tax
    Luxury Taxes
    Marriage License Tax
    Medicare Tax
    Personal Property Tax
    Property Tax
    Real Estate Tax
    Service Charge Tax
    Social Security Tax
    Road Usage Tax
    Recreational Vehicle Tax
    Sales Tax
    School Tax
    State Income Tax
    State Unemployment Tax (SUTA)
    Telephone Federal Excise Tax
    Telephone Federal Universal Service Fee Tax
    Telephone Federal, State and Local Surcharge Taxes
    Telephone Minimum Usage Surcharge Tax
    Telephone Recurring and Nonrecurring Charges Tax
    Telephone State and Local Tax
    Telephone Usage Charge Tax
    Utility Taxes
    Vehicle License Registration Tax
    Vehicle Sales Tax
    Watercraft Registration Tax
    Well Permit Tax
    Workers Compensation Tax
    Not one of these taxes existed 100 years ago, & our nation was the most prosperous in the world. We had absolutely no national debt, had the largest middle class in the world, and Mom stayed home to raise the kids.

  2. [2] 
    dsws wrote:

    Quick survey: how many of you, upon reading that last paragraph, thought that sounds like a dandy idea?

    Everyone but me, presumably. I don't think legislators should be empowered to hold other legislators' pay hostage by blocking legislation. Got a legislator who's not a millionaire, (well, not many) and not falling in line with the corrupt channels by which legislators are supposed to get rich? (Again, not many.) Got a grudge against them? Got Senate rules? Then you've got an incentive to hold up the budget.

    These are millionaires, getting paid upper-middle-class salaries, while doing jobs that inherently involve the opportunity for massive income from stuff like "consulting".

    The salary doesn't matter.

  3. [3] 
    dsws wrote:

    The tag <tt> works in preview, even though it doesn't in the actual comment.

  4. [4] 
    Michale wrote:

    The salary doesn't matter.

    While I disagree with you on that, I am constrained to point out that, even if the salary doesn't matter, the symbolism, the perception DOES matter. A LOT...

    Also, consider how bad off MANY CongressCritters would be today if they haven't been paid ANYTHING since Obama took office...

    I think it would bite a LOT more than you might think..


  5. [5] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    Those 545 people, and they alone, are responsible.

    They, and they alone, have the power.


    We should vote all of them out of office and clean up their mess!

    that's assuming our votes are accurately counted by the diebold computers and accurately reported by the corporate media. if people do start to pull together the numbers to vote out all of congress, don't expect them to go quietly.


  6. [6] 
    Michale wrote:

    if people do start to pull together the numbers to vote out all of congress, don't expect them to go quietly.

    That's what the 2nd Amendment is for.. :D


  7. [7] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    Michale [1] -

    That was an interesting article, but I do have to caution you against getting me in trouble, copyright-wise. Post a few key paragraphs and a link, next time.

    As for the bit at the end, excise taxes have indeed been around for more than 100 years. Watch Ken Burns' "Prohibition" or read about the "Whiskey Rebellion" for more info -- alcohol taxes brought in a fairly good chunk of the federal governments' income for a long time in our history. As did land sales -- when the feds took over new territory in our push westward, they then got to sell the land off and make a profit. A BIG profit -- this is what kept our government running throughout the 19th century.

    Alas, today, we've sold off the frontier, and that income method is no longer available.

    Not saying your article and poem don't have a point, but let's keep a few facts straight, that's all.

    dsws -

    What does a "tt" tag do?

    Also, it is not so much the cutoff of salary as it is the public's rage when it happens. All I know is last year in CA (the first year the budget had to be passed under such circumstances) and BOTH parties were equally pressed by (1) the howls of the public, and (2) the howls of their members who really needed the salary. It was completely bipartisan, and the SHAME factor of the public won the day in less than two weeks. As opposed to nine months.

    I think it's worth a try on the national scale, personally.

    Think about it, the only time Congress passes ANYthing these days is with a deadline of some sort. I'd rather have that deadline be a lot less important to the American economy than withholding SS checks or shutting down the federal government or losing our credit rating. Instead, I'd prefer it to only be the paychecks for Congress.


  8. [8] 
    Michale wrote:

    That was an interesting article, but I do have to caution you against getting me in trouble, copyright-wise. Post a few key paragraphs and a link, next time.

    KO... It has been posted on several blogs already. I think it's like a decade old..

    But the caveat is acknowledged...


  9. [9] 
    dsws wrote:

    Alas, today, we've sold off the frontier, and that income method is no longer available.

    There's far more frontier left unsold, unreached, and unclaimed, than has ever been reached by humans or even by our unmanned spacecraft. Claiming and selling it would be against treaties we've signed and ratified, but that didn't slow us down a bit in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, did it? The real barrier is that we're not building our century's equivalent of the railroads, canals, and turnpikes that opened this continent to white settlement.

    What does a "tt" tag do?

    It puts the text into a monospace font: useful for ASCII-art, verse where you want the lines to align, or just a change of font for emphasis.

    Also, it is not so much the cutoff of salary as it is the public's rage when it happens.

    Public opinion makes no sense. Why would they be enraged when Congress triggers a cutoff of its own salary, but not when it just fails to pass a budget? Reminds me of the run-up to the Obamacare law, how the public was overwhelmingly opposed to having a public option, but equally adamant in favor of having "the choice of" a public option.

    All I know is last year in CA (the first year the budget had to be passed under such circumstances) and BOTH parties were equally pressed by (1) the howls of the public, and (2) the howls of their members who really needed the salary.

    There are plenty of state legislators who really need the salary. There are no members of Congress who do.

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