Many lawmakers seem to think they deserve a pay raise.
When House Democrats and Republicans began negotiating a congressional pay increase earlier this month, Democrats seemed to support it, as did some ranking GOP members. Critics then voiced open opposition, and House leaders swiftly pulled the bill—though House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., maintains the raises will eventually pass.
The debate has subsided for the moment, but it raises the question: What have members of Congress done to even remotely deserve a raise?
The Democrat-controlled House Budget Committee, for its part, has failed to release a budget plan this year. The Senate Budget Committee fell short as well, proposing a budget that would cover just five years and that has little chance of receiving a vote.
Passing budgets is Congress’ most basic job, yet for years the process has broken down, resulting in semi-annual omnibus bills and continuing resolutions that spend far too much.
Until Congress starts consistently doing its job—namely, following the annual budget process by passing a budget and then pursuing reconciliation legislation—it shouldn’t even consider raising lawmakers’ pay.
What can be done to help this happen?
The first step is to create robust enforcement measures that give Congress a strong incentive to follow its own budget process laid out by law.
One such measure already exists. Recently, Sens. Mike Braun, R-Ind., and Rick Scott, R-Fla., introduced the No Budget, No Pay Act, which would withhold congressional pay if lawmakers fail to pass a budget by the Oct. 1 deadline, which marks the beginning of the next fiscal year.
That bill was attached to the Government Shutdown Accountability Act, which passed out of committee on June 19, bringing it one step closer to becoming law.
Braun called the move a “big step toward pulling Washington out of la-la land,” and Scott added that the act would hold members of Congress to the same standards as American families, ensuring that lawmakers only get paid if they do their jobs. Scott was optimistic about getting Democratic support for the bill, noting that “accountability shouldn’t be controversial.”
Another accountability measure was introduced by Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa. Her bill would prohibit Congress from going into recess until a budget is passed.
Under her proposal, if a budget isn’t passed on time, members of Congress would be barred from leaving Washington and Congress would not be able to adjourn for more than eight hours.
These are healthy steps toward holding Congress accountable to do its most basic job. They are measures The Heritage Foundation has called for in the “Blueprint for Balance,” which includes additional measures to compel Congress to follow the budget process.
Although politicians are wont to forget it, the budgeting process isn’t just a hobby horse for fiscal hawks. Article I of the Constitution squarely gives Congress the obligation to regularly lay out the “Receipts and Expenditures of all public Money.”
Congress has proved more than willing to rack up trillions in new debt, but it lacks even the faintest motivation to account for its reckless and decadent spending habits.
So long as that’s the case, Americans should question not only whether lawmakers deserve a pay raise, but whether they should be paid at all—let alone remain in office.
After all, American workers can’t expect to keep their jobs and get paid if they consistently fail at their main task.
Politicians should not be held to a lower standard than the people they represent.
Active and vigilant measures like the “no budget no pay” rule would take a significant step toward forcing members of Congress to do their jobs and to govern with discipline.
No budget for America? No pay for you.