Public demanding action? Check.
Bill written? Check.
Catchy slogan? Check.
Is this Constitutional? …whoops.
It has been 1,377 days since the Senate passed a budget. The last time the Senate Democrats passed a budget was April 29, 2009. Back then, the iPad didn’t exist, nobody knew who Snooki was, and YAL had only been around for a few months. Public unrest over this failure has consistently grown since then, and multiple Members of Congress, including Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) and Rep. Steve King (R-IA), advocate for a Balanced Budget Amendment to the Constitution.
At the end of January, House Republicans decided to challenge the no-action Senate by pushing H.R. 325, “to ensure the complete and timely payment of the obligations of the United States Government until May 19, 2013, and for other purposes.” Introduced by Rep. Dave Camp (R-MI), this bill “solves” the debt ceiling debate by raising the debt limit until May 19 of this year. Additionally, there was an addendum that dictated until the Senate passed a budget, they would not receive payment for their work. This is more commonly referred to as “No Budget, No Pay.”
In theory, this sounds great. The average American doesn’t get paid if he or she doesn’t complete his or her work, so surely we can hold Congress to the same standards. There is one minuscule difference, however. The average American’s pay is not dictated by the U.S. Constitution. The 27th Amendment states:
“No law, varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives, shall take effect, until an election of Representatives shall have intervened.”
Pretty clear, right? You can change pay for Congress, but it won’t take effect for two years. No Budget, No Pay changes the payment schedule of Senators, and thus could not take effect until 2015.
To justify their legislation, the GOP Conference sent out memos with Founders’ intent, saying that James Madison submitted it in 1789 to prevent Congress from giving themselves constant pay raises. Unfortunately for the GOP, the Amendment doesn’t say that, nor does it say “rate of compensation.” This rhetoric is coming from the same party fighting against gun control advocates’ insistence that the Founders didn’t mean all guns, despite the 2nd Amendment also being very clear.
To make matters worse, commentary on the Hill trying to justify the vote was, for lack of a better word, shady. The logic behind the bill was that the only way the bill could be ruled unconstitutional was if it passed and then someone sued, and what Senator is going to sue and be on the record saying they demand pay for their job? They’re essentially admitting that they know “No Budget, No Pay” was weak constitutionally, but who would be gullible enough to challenge their authority?
I will commend the House leadership for putting pressure on the Senate to pass a budget. It was a clever messaging idea. It’s a pity, however, that they had to resort to gimmicks and compromising their beliefs again and again to only get the country back to where it was before—excessive spending and a raised debt ceiling. I’m glad that, even though it passed, there are a handful of Republican Members willing to stand up for principle.