Lee: You know what? You don't get paid if you don't do your job, so why should members of Congress get a paycheck if they don't do theirs? That is the thinking behind the No Budget, No Pay Act. It keeps lawmakers from getting paid if they don't pass a budget, and the spending bills go along with that budget, in a very timely fashion. Democratic Congressman Jim Cooper introduced this bipartisan legislation in the house. He just testified before a Senate committee on his new push and he was good enough to talk to us after that. Congressman, nice to have you today.
Cooper: Good to be with you.
Lee: So, why do you think this is going to work?
Cooper: Well, the idea is very simple, and it's very fair. As you just stated, if you don't work, you shouldn't get paid. Congress should live by the same rules. I think if we don't pass our budget and appropriation bills we shouldn't get paid, and those are simple, clear, enforceable deadlines.
Lee: Congressman, if I don't do my job I get fired. I usually see the big hook, there's a big hook by the door. Jon and I do something wrong, and we're gone, sayonara, outside the studio. Why do you think new legislation is key here? Why shouldn't it be just if you don't do your job in Congress you get fired and we vote somebody in who can do the job?
Cooper: Well, why wait two years? As fragile as our economy is, we should be able to discipline Members of Congress more promptly than that. Unfortunately, our Constitution says only voters can fire Congressman, and that is only every two years. We need prompter action than that.
Lee: Would this change the Constitution in any way?
Cooper: It would not. We could not cut member pay this year, but we can right after the November election. So I think that what we really want is prompt budget action. We do not want the nation to default. We do not want the nation to be a slow payer. And I think, actually if you see this reform, you will see Congress be very prompt indeed because it would align the interests of all members of Congress. Today, there are actually some members of Congress who benefit from these delays.
Lee: Interesting. I was looking at what your salary is and representatives and senators get paid $174,000, as of January 1st, 2009. But half of the members of Congress, just about half, are actually millionaires. And I'm curious, if you keep part of the pay away from a millionaire how much of a motivation this is really going to be?
Cooper: Well, everybody wants to earn a paycheck, but we should only get the paycheck if we do the work of the nation. I think what you will see here with aligned interests, with every Congressman behaving the same we'll get the job done on time. We don't get smarter after October. The fiscal year starts October 1st. we should have completed our work by October 1st. We can do this.
Lee: Real quick here, Congressman, what's next? Where does this go from here? Does the Congress have to approve it to make actually happen?
Cooper: We had an excellent hearing in the Senate today under Senator Lieberman and Senator Collins. We need a house hearing on the bill as well. We need to build a groundswell support. The No Labels movement nationwide is helping to promote this reform as well as 11 other key Congressional reforms. This is nonpartisan. It's not Democrat or Republican. This is for the good of the country. And I hope the good people will stand behind it.
Lee: we'll see if it works. It's an interesting idea, and we appreciate you coming on to talk to us more about it, Sir.
Cooper: My pleasure, thanks.
Scott: Be interesting to know what his fellow members of Congress think about that.