Russert: No Budget, No Pay. That's a new bill a bipartisan group of lawmakers is trying to push through the house. The premise: hold lawmakers to a simple work ethic. If you don't get the budget passed each October, then you don't get your salary. Joining me now is lead sponsor Congressman Jim Cooper, Democrat of Tennessee, and cosponsor, Republican Congressman Reid Ribble. They are here joining me now and he's in Milwaukee. They are also a part of the Fix Congress Now Caucus. Gentlemen, welcome. Thanks so much for being here.
Cooper: Good morning Luke.
Ribble: Good morning Luke. Good morning Jim.
Russert: Mr. Cooper, I will start with you. No Budget, No Pay. Essentially if the Congress cannot get a budget passed by October 1st, you guys don't get paid, and you had a great quote. You said, "We'll have engaged the most powerful lobbyists on earth to get it done, namely our spouses. They will get angry if we're not paid." Talk about your bill.
Cooper: That's right Luke. The idea is very simple. No work, no pay. The idea is very powerful because Congress has not been held responsible for its collective behavior. We really haven't passed budget and appropriations bills on time in 14 years. You just talked about how 15 banks had been downgraded yesterday. America could be downgraded very shortly if we don't get our work done on time. The deadline is October 1st. This is one of the laziest Congresses in American history. We only worked 7 days during the month of May, and we're barely working more than that in the month of June. We've got no highway bill. Other essential pieces of legislation have not been passed, so it is time to take action.
Russert: Mr. Ribble, this is obviously a bipartisan measure. Do you think we could see bipartisan ideas in a large scale budget? Democrats would like to see a revenue increase.
Ribble: Well yeah, I think it can be done. The house has spoken. I'm a freshman member. I was in Congress about 110 days and we passed our first budget. My second year we passed it again and we passed it on time. And so on the house side as far as the Senate goes, but the Senate hasn't acted. I think historically if you look back, almost every time there is an election year, it is not 100 percent this way, but almost every time there is an election year, the Senate and the House doesn't come together to pass a budget, and Jim spoke a little bit about the appropriations process. We are not even getting our appropriations bills done on time, and so Jim and I and others, both Republicans and Democrats, decided that we wanted to fix this, and we are going to start to apply pressure. Coming on your show this morning will help, and the American people begin to speak up if they hear about it.
Russert: Realistically speaking, what are some areas of agreement that you guys could come to in this type of bill. Could you have significant entitlement reforms? Could you have revenue increases or could you have some smaller things that might be beneficial to the citizenry? I'll give that to Mr. Cooper.
Cooper: We really need to have everything on the table. I like the Simpson-Bowles approach, but it has to be hashed out by Congress. It is not enough for the House to do its thing and the Senate to do its thing. We have got to come together as a Congress with responsibility because we live in the greatest nation on earth. We have to keep it that way. Right now we are dangerously close to not only losing our credit rating but also other forms of national weakness. I hope Congress can get its act together. Congress according to most experts on a bipartisan basis has really never been this broken. So let's fix it, and let's fix it now. We've got a few weeks left in this session. There are really only about 23 days left according to the Congressional calendar before the election we've got to move fast.
Russert: I will ask you where do we fix it though? Where can we agree? Both of you, where can we find something we can agree and take home and sign into law?
Cooper: I offered two months ago the Simpson-Bowles budget with entitlement reforms and taxes. It's got to be done with both, but we only got 38 votes in the house.
Russert: Mr. Ribble
Ribble: Well I think you'll see it here in a few days maybe. There has been a conference committee working on the highway bill, transportation bill. We have made quite a bit of progress over the last 30 days. I think we might be able to get some things wrapped up maybe if we need an extension we'll get it, but there has been a lot of progress on the highway bill. That has been done in a bipartisan fashion both in the Senate and in the conference committee, and I think you might actually see some things happen, but it does take pressure and it takes a certain dent of will by members of Congress to say that the American people are more important than these political careers that people have been protecting, and it is time to move some things forward. I know as a freshman member, I am pretty frustrated with the process, but I also recognize the founders set up a system that requires us to move towards consensus. We have to start talking with one another, and we have to stop demonizing ideas that the other side has.
Russert: I will pose this question to both of you, and Mr. Ribble, you can go first. How much do you think Grover Norquist's tax pledge has to do with the gridlock that we see today in Congress?
Ribble: I think it is overstated. The fact of the matter is, members of Congress are going to move to do what they have to do to get this situation rectified. Obviously we can't move at all until the Senate passes something as it relates to a budget. If they would at least pass one we could begin to talk about it together and find out where the common ground is. I think the no tax pledge has been a little bit overstated as far as how much power it has on Capitol Hill.
Russert: Mr. Cooper
Cooper: Luke, I think the only oath of office that anybody should take is to the Constitution because we owe our duty to this nation, to our people, to the greatness of this nation. These other pledges really just get in the way. When 95% of one party has pledged to take one huge thing off the table, that makes negotiations really difficult. So let's put our country first. We must do that because America is slipping, and it is slipping badly. Congress is part of that unless we fix Congress. It is really a question of like with veterinary medicine. How do you get the animal to take the pill? It has to be strong enough to work, and it has to be tasty enough for them to swallow it. Will Congress swallow this? Right now the leadership of both houses and both parties is against our proposal. We need a grassroots effort here to build support for this to get it passed in this Congress.
Russert: Well I suspect you will have a difficult time this Congress, but perhaps 2013. Jim Cooper, Reid Ribble, thanks so much for joining us this morning.
Cooper: Thank you Luke.
Ribble: Thanks Luke.