By Congressman Scott Peters
Last year, the House Republican leadership made a point to criticize the Senate, controlled by Democrats, for not having passed a budget in four years. I agreed with them. They were right.
One of the ideas I sponsored as a candidate was "No Budget -- No Pay," the idea that if Congress can't do their job and pass a budget, they should not get a paycheck. I proposed the idea after I was sworn in and, on a bipartisan vote, the House of Representatives adopted a version of the concept in January and it became law in early February. If the Senate wanted to get paychecks and avoid a government shutdown, it would have to pass a budget.
In the following weeks, the House of Representatives adopted a budget like the one it passed last year, called the Ryan Budget for its primary author, Paul Ryan of Wisconsin. And the Senate, controlled by Democrats, has also passed a budget. I don't think that either version is what we need -- a budget that cuts wasteful spending, provides a basic safety net, reforms and simplifies our broken tax code, supports a sound national defense and invests in our future through education, scientific research and infrastructure. But now that we have a budget from each chamber, we can work together to resolve differences through discussions and compromise.
Or so you would think
The next step in our revered Congressional process is supposed to be a conference between the leadership in both houses, among conferees chosen by both parties. If you haven't heard about the appointment of conferees, it's not that you haven't been paying attention. There have been none. The process has just stopped. For more than two months.
Yes, with the across-the-board sequester cuts now taking effect, with 30,000 military jobs at risk just in San Diego County, with scientists having to stop their work mid-experiment and with the still skittish economy wondering what in the heck the U.S. government is going to do next, Congress has apparently stopped work on the budget.
When I travel home to San Diego, I hear a sense of urgency about economic conditions, and a finalized and regular federal budget could help a lot. But in DC, I see detachment and complacency.
I will continue to urge my colleagues and our leaders that our duty is to do the people's business. You can do the same. Whether you are a member of a national organization interested in the federal budget or government, or whether you are a concerned individual, go ahead and call or send an email and let Congress know it's time to appoint budget conferees and get back to work.