The House of Representatives has passed what is known as the No Budget, No Pay Act of 2013. This Act will withhold the pay of all members of either house of Congress, starting on April 16, 2013, if a budget resolution for fiscal year 2014 isn’t passed by April 15. The pay will be put into an escrow account until such time that a budget does get passed, or until the last day of the 113th Congress, whichever comes first. It applies to all 535 members.
It’s no secret that Congress didn’t pass a budget at all from 2010 to 2012, but what may not be well known is that they’ve only passed budgets four times in the last 30 years. The Washington Post reports that Congress has typically relied on omnibus bills and continuing resolutions to keep the government operating recently, and that budgets have only passed in 1977, 1989, 1995 and 1997. No budgets actually passed under either Bush Sr. or Bush Jr., and have not passed so far under Obama either.
Continuing resolutions can be a problem because they contribute to government inefficiency. Agencies can’t operate beyond Oct. 1 of each year if they don’t have their budgets. While some operations deemed necessary will continue even in the absence of appropriations, many would find themselves forced into shutdown, with workers on furlough, until such time that they receive funding. This grinds the federal government to a halt.
Continuing resolutions are short-term measures, usually only a few months in length, so agencies are operating on a basis similar to month-to-month until a budget is passed. They are also pretty restrictive in what they allow, which can delay implementation of new programs and prevent agencies from being able to take advantage of opportunities requiring funding that may come their way. Historically, they’re passed in the fall, just before the budget deadline, giving Congress an extension on the budget.
What’s been happening in recent history, however, is that they’ve been funding the government entirely on continuing resolutions. By Sept. 2011, there had been nine continuing resolutions and no budget for that year.
The No Budget, No Pay Act of 2013 was passed as part of a short extension of the debt ceiling. Paul Ryan (R-WI) has said that the House will not consider another debt ceiling increase until the Senate has passed an actual budget. He considers this a type of down payment on the national debt.
Democratic leaders in the Senate and the White House expressed support for the measure. The Senate has also pledged to pass an actual budget resolution, or outline, this spring, which would put political pressure on the House to pass something by its own deadline this summer.
However, it appears that the No Budget, No Pay Act only applies to pay for the 113th Congress. If they fail to pass a budget, their pay will be held in escrow until the end of their current term and then released on their last day, which keeps the law from violating the 27th Amendment.
The idea of Congressional pay being withheld if they don’t pass a budget is likely to be very popular with the general public, most of whom understand that if they don’t do their jobs as prescribed and required, they don’t get paid. In fact, they get fired after enough of that. While this does only apply to the 113th Congress, and does not contain any permanent provisions for withholding pay in the future, it is a step towards requiring Congress to make honest efforts to work towards solving problems instead of grandstanding and obstructing and essentially only serving their own ends and calling that “work.”