By Paige Winfield Cunningham
A group of Democratic and Republican House members say if Congress can't fulfill its basic duty of passing a budget, they should punish themselves in a way that really hurts: by denying themselves their paychecks.
Neither party's leaders seem keen on the idea, but rank-and-file members said the time has come to find a way to force Congress to take action.
Congress is supposed to pass a budget each year that sets overall spending limits and then pass the dozen spending bills that actually fund basic government operations by Oct. 1, which is the start of the fiscal year. But Congress hasn't passed a budget since 2009, and it regularly fails to pass at least some of the 12 annual spending bills.
A sure solution is to put members' pay on the line if they don't start thinking longer-term, said Rep. Jim Cooper, Tennessee Democrat and sponsor of the "No Budget, No Pay" Act.
"We will have engaged the most powerful lobbyists on earth to get it done, namely, our spouses," Mr. Cooper said. "They have a strong interest in us getting paid."
Under the bill, Congress members would forgo pay for every day after Oct. 1 that they didn't adopt a budget and pass all of the spending bills.
Once members approved a spending plan and appropriated the money, they would start receiving paychecks again but couldn't collect any retroactive pay.
While 29 Republicans and 19 Democrats have signed on to his bill, Mr. Cooper said he hopes more members will come onboard to pressure House Speaker John A. Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor to bring it to the floor.
"It's no secret this is not popular with leadership," he said. "They just want to be popular with members. Some of the most sacred conversations here on the Hill are about member pay and benefits. You start messing with that and you get real trouble in both parties."
A similar effort is under way in the Senate, led by Sen. Dean Heller, Nevada Republican, who urged Majority Leader Harry Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to schedule a vote. Nine Republicans and one Democrat, Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, have signed on.
House lawmakers are combining their bill with a new caucus they also announced Wednesday, calling it Fix Congress Now. They said members may join only if they agree to start practicing courtesy toward lawmakers with whom they disagree.
They said the aim is to restore civility to Congress after recent years when partisan bickering has been the norm. But even that requirement has proved too much for some lawmakers, said Rep. E. Scott Rigell, Virginia Republican.
"There's no true pure litmus test - there are no phrases you can or can't use to elevate civility," he said. "It's more the deep principles we've talked about here, and so we've been very careful. We've had a few members say "No, I'm just not there,' and that's OK, that's all right."