O'Brien: If you talk about Congress people, $174,000 a year is what you get as a paycheck. It's the minimum that you will make if you work in Congress. That's at a time when Congress' approval rating among Americans is at an all-time low. I believe it's at 9%. It was at 10%. Down to 9% now. This morning, though, we are hearing, there are hearings in Congress to try to change that. It's a No Budget, No Pay bill that would cut off paychecks for all Members of Congress if they can't pass a budget by the beginning of the fiscal the year. Congress has not passed a budget since 2009. It's the latest idea from the group called No Labels and has bipartisan support. Democratic Representative from Tennessee, Jim Cooper proposed the House version of the bill. He and Tom Davis, who's a former Republican Congressman from Virginia are co-founders of No Labels and they're going to be testifying at a hearing today. Good morning, gentlemen. It's nice to see you both. Congressman Davis, always nice to see you and even have you in person when you have the chance to come visit with us. I know what is behind the bill is a frustration, and I'll get to that in a moment. First, I want you to walk me through the specifics of the bill that's proposed.
Cooper: All it would do is say that Congress has to pass its budgets and its appropriation bills on time. And on time means by the beginning at fiscal year, which is October 1st every year. Congress has largely failed to do this in the past. We think it's high time that Congress did its job this year.
O'Brien: Or what?
Cooper: Or Congress would not be paid. And the signs are that Congress could, you know, be a few days late or even a week late, but I think eventually Congress would do the job on time, because Congressmen want to get paid.
O'Brien: So, Congressman Davis, you have co-sponsors, 34 in the house, 6 in the senate. Which is a nice number that brings you up to 40, but there are several hundred people who have a vested interest in the bill who may not be so inclined to sign on. What's the likelihood a bill leak this would pass?
Davis: Well, it's got a hearing in the Senate. I suspect there will be hearings in the House at this point. Look, the key here -- Congress has not passed its appropriation bills on time since 1996. That means that government agencies can't start doing their work because they don't know what budget they're going to have for the year. It means contracts aren't let, people aren't hired, innovations don't take place. This is really borne out of frustration. The Senate passed a resolution last year that said if there was a shut down senators wouldn't get paid. So there, I think, is a frustration even among the Members that they want to get this stuff done. They just haven't been able to do it. A year ago it was May before you got the appropriation bills done for a fiscal year that started October 1
O'Brien: Catherine, is this legal?
Crier: Sure. You've seen governors do this, and it's occurred in state houses. Absolutely the legislature should do it and they should do other things this organization is talking about. The notion that we're not getting a five-day workweek. The notion these guys can show up on a Tuesday afternoon and go home on the Thursday afternoon and take the kind of recesses they get.
O'Brien: And we've talked about insider trading.
Crier: Insider trading, and we won't even get into the manipulation of rules and how they're stymieing the processes but I think this is a great step. If you can get a bipartisan passage of this, more power, that would be absolutely extraordinary, but we've got to do something because they're stalemating the entire process.
O'Brien: Ultimately, gentlemen, I'm sure this is really about frustration and trying to stave off the public frustration with this system. Internally is there frustration in Congress as well? You must be embarrassed and horrified by those low approval numbers, right?
Cooper: It's tremendously frustrating because Congress right now is not doing the job the American people expect and demand. So what this bill is about is about aligning interests. Today there are some members of Congress who benefit from these delays. We want to make sure that no one benefits from these delays.
O'Brien: How so? Tell me how they benefit?
Cooper: Well, they get publicity, and publicity in politics is like gold. Some of them are able to favor certain special interests by not having a cut taking place as soon as it would have. There are other ways that you can manipulate the system. But we've got to do our work on time. Everybody back home understands if you don't do the work, you don't get paid. The same should be true of Congress.
O'Brien: But, you know, the medium net worth of a Congress person is just under a million dollars. I'm surprised to read that, that sounded super super high. Do you think really, ultimately withholding a salary at the end of the day is going to be a huge disincentive to sit around and basically run to open mikes and hold press conferences?
Davis: Well you know I've been out for three years. Retired undefeated, unindicted. Just happy to get --
O'Brien: We love when you say that, by the way.
Davis: But there's tremendous frustration among rank in file members who come to Washington to get things done only to find out they don't always get the choices they want on this. And I think the theory behind this is, if the members are saying let's get it done on time, they will prevail on the leaders to bring the votes up in a timely manner.
O'Donnell: I think it's a great idea. Why not add the word balanced to the word budget, too? Pass a balanced budget and then you get your pay.
O'Brien: Whoa, Brett - don't go crazy. All right. Nice to see you. Thanks for talking with us. Obviously we're going to follow up and see how this goes when you do your testifying today.