WASHINGTON — In an earlier era, a move like the one engineered by House GOP leaders to pass a “no budget, no pay” measure probably would have been stopped in its tracks.
But with Congress’ approval ratings in the gutter, House lawmakers pushed aside questions about fairness and constitutionality and tacked the idea onto an unpopular, must-pass bill to increase the government’s borrowing cap.
The measure temporarily would withhold pay from any member of the House or Senate whose chamber doesn’t pass a budget this year. The Senate is expected to approve it in the coming week, but only after leaders make clear they think “no budget, no pay” is rife with flaws.
The proposal is before the Senate because the House breezed past objections that the idea is unconstitutional because it could “vary” the pay of lawmakers in violation of the 27th Amendment to the Constitution. The House ignored concerns that the measure is unfair to members who are in the minority and are powerless to determine whether a budget passes.
Nearly unmentioned was the prospect that withholding lawmakers’ pay favors wealthy members over those of more modest means and could, in theory, attract more affluent candidates better able to withstand having some of their $174,000 salary withheld.
“The last thing we want to do is to say to people running for Congress, ‘If you’re not a millionaire, don’t run because there’s no guarantee you’ll be paid,'” said Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y.
For these reasons and more, the idea went nowhere in the last congressional session. But it was embraced about a week ago by House GOP leaders such as Speaker John Boehner of Ohio as they struggled to avoid a potential market-crippling default on government obligations.
The proposal is a slap at the Democratic-controlled Senate, which hasn’t passed a budget since 2009. Republicans advanced the measure as a one-year experiment rather than a permanent law.
The logic behind “no budget, no pay” goes like this: Passing a budget is the core responsibility of Congress, so why should lawmakers get paid if they don’t do their main job?