About 90 percent of Americans dislike Congress, and for good reason. We're less popular than cockroaches. But a funny thing happened on the House floor last week: My colleagues supported an idea that has a 90 percent public approval rating and could start fixing Congress.
I'm talking about the No Budget, No Pay Act, which I introduced last year and wrote about in The Tennessean in March. The idea is simple: If Congress doesn't do its work on time, it doesn't get paid.
The idea came from a Nashvillian who told me, "Congressman, I don't get paid if I don't do my job, and do it on time. Why should you be any different?" The answer to his question is No Budget, No Pay.
I worked my colleagues, and the nonpartisan citizen group No Labels mobilized its grass-roots network. By the end of 2012, my bill had 79 co-sponsors, both Republicans and Democrats. Most of Tennessee's congressional delegation signed on in support, including both U.S. senators. Democrats from California to New York signed on. Diane Black ran television ads supporting my bill. This was a truly bipartisan effort.
At the start of 2013 and the new Congress, we had to begin finding cosponsors all over again. Neither political party liked my bill, so the odds of passage were long. Many of my colleagues hated the idea of not getting a paycheck. Even the rich ones hated it because they like money the most.
My response: Don't give up on the idea of Congress passing a budget on time. If we meet our deadline, no one's pay will be docked. Just the threat of stopping paychecks will be enough to get the job done, especially when an angry spouse is waiting at home.
When the new Congress was sworn in early this month, I re-introduced my bill, and after a week, it had 59 co-sponsors; in 2012, it had taken us nearly a year to hit that number.
Republican leaders noticed the growing strength of our idea and announced that they would attach a watered-down version of my bill to their debt-ceiling bill. I am not responsible for their drafting. This surprise combination bill passed overwhelmingly, 285-144. Eighty-six Democrats supported the bill, including moderates, liberals, freshmen and old-timers.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has said the bill will pass this week, and the White House has indicated the president will sign it into law. Despite these assurances, I won't rest until it's done.
No principle is more basic to Tennessee values than "no work, no pay." As our state's beloved former Gov. Ned Ray McWherter used to say, "If you don't want to work, you ought not to hire out."
Congress' unpopularity is its own fault, but I'm encouraged that this new Congress was quick to support a new type of reform, one that aligns the interests of politicians with taxpayers. No Budget, No Pay is no cure-all, but it's a good start.