It’s hard not to sympathize with the House Republicans’ latest budget gambit. They are willing to extend the debt ceiling for three months on the condition the Senate pass a budget, a fundamental task it has failed to perform for four straight years. And if the Senate doesn’t pass a budget, the House bill declares senators won’t be paid until they do.
I understand the difficulty Harry Reid would have getting the 60 votes to pass a budget over a predictable Republican filibuster. But for his party not to bring a budget forward for debate is politically clueless and constitutionally reprehensible. Do your job. Come up with a budget that makes the “tough choices” that have become a political cliche. Let Mitch McConnell filibuster it — then he’ll take the blame for stalling the process.
And I can certainly understand the sentiment behind the no-budget-no-pay provision. For most of us, missing a paycheck is a problem worth avoiding.
Unfortunately, the Senate is mostly made up of millionaires who have no need to ever cash their government paychecks. Even more unfortunately, there’s the matter of the 27th Amendment to the Constitution, which reads in full:
No law, varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives, shall take effect, until an election of representatives shall have intervened.
The amendment was first proposed in 1789, though it wasn’t adopted until 1992, and its point is pretty clear. Members of Congress can’t vote themselves a raise — or a pay cut. Any change in compensation they vote for can’t take effect until the next Congress is seated.
Backers of the proposal argue that the paychecks will just be held in escrow until a budget is enacted, so Congress members will collect it sooner or later. Of course, that takes some of the sting out of the penalty for inaction.
Still, it seems to me the point of the 27th amendment is to avoid entangling Congress members’ public responsibilities with their private finances. The oath they took, and pressure from the public, ought to be enough to get them to do the jobs for which they were elected, without bringing their wallets into it.