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No Budget No Pay Act is a positive step for stagnant Congress

By Kristi Allen
On February 8, 2013

If you don't do your job, you don't get paid. It's a pretty much uncontested adage with only a few exceptions- one of them being Congress. The 535 congressmen and women who work on Capitol Hill receive pay regardless of their performance, but that may change. Last week, Congress passed the No Budget No Pay Act, which is pretty self-explanatory: both the Senate and the House will have to pass a budget if they want their salary.
The bill was part of a deal to postpone debt-ceiling talks until mid-May, which both parties seemed to agree was the best course of action overall, but the No Budget No Pay clause did meet some opposition from people calling it a political gimmick, which it is. Even if Congress never passes a budget, they'll receive their pay in full at the end of this session. It's also probably not going to provide a ton of motivation given that the average senator is worth $13.9 million. Is it really necessary to make this gesture?
At this point, where "postponed" equals "addressed" it absolutely does. While I support the No Budget No Pay act, the deal it was part of is a perfect example of what's wrong in Congress right now. Debt ceiling talks were getting nowhere, so the law stating that Congress couldn't spend over that amount was suspended until May, which was deemed a more politically opportune time to work on a long-term agreement. The only trouble is they've been trying to pull together a long-term agreement since the summer of 2011. It hasn't gotten done because each time it comes up, both parties decide that they'd rather avert the risk of actually having to compromise and see if they can get exactly what they want a little further down the line.
While their adherence to principal is admirable, it's hurting the economy and preventing them from dealing with other issues. After the Debt Ceiling crisis in 2011, the Government Accountability Office estimated that the instability had increased borrowing costs by $1.3 million for that year alone. Not having an actual budget has also created uncertainty for investors and slowed the economy.
When Congress resolves an issue (or a "battle" or "showdown"), they emerge from those conference rooms like victorious brokers of prosperity and democracy and congratulate themselves for saving the day. But they caused the problem, and usually they don't even get around to solving it either. Nowadays, there seems to be one thing both parties whole-heartedly agree on: whatever it is, they can do it later.
In the past two years alone we've narrowly avoided going over the fiscal cliff, raised the debt ceiling in the 11th hour before catastrophic default, avoided both the sequester and passing cuts to prevent the sequester and seen the nation's credit rating dropped. All without passing an actual plan to solve any of these problems. Now Congress has just given themselves a few more months to put it off.
The deal that was just reached wasn't successful problem solving, it was successful procrastination. The arguments in support of it revolve around its benefits as political leverage, not as a solution. It's good that our lawmakers have time to come to a better one, but the simple fact is, we should have had the beginnings of a budget last week, a plan for avoiding the fiscal cliff two months ago, and a long term debt ceiling resolution two years ago. But what's the hurry? Maybe the fifth or sixth try will be the charm.
Whether or not Congress is doing a good job isn't exactly a contentious issue. Their approval rating has been somewhere around 15 percent for quite a while, and they even hit a new all time low with 9 percent recently. Yes, they're putting the time in and trying to do their jobs, but I know that I wouldn't get paid if my approval rating was in the single digits, and I did nothing but fight with my co-workers. The No Budget No Pay Act may not do exactly what it intends, but of the many political gimmicks that have been passed in the last few years, this one is by far the most defensible. It sends a clear message that Congress needs to hear.

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