Congress likes to impose draconian consequences – the fiscal cliff, sequestration, national default – on itself, and unfortunately on the rest of us as well, for failing to do what it’s supposed to do.
The latest such gimmick is the No Budget, No Pay proviso. The idea is that none of the lawmakers will get a paycheck until both the House and Senate pass a budget this year. For the senators, it’s not an idle threat because they haven’t passed a budget in four years.
But the threat is somewhat mitigated because so many members of Congress are wealthy enough that they can get along without their government paycheck and, besides, they get all the money back at the end of the congressional session. No member will starve.
However, David Walker has come up with a promising proposal to get the solons to do their work: “No Deal, No Break.” Appointed by President Bill Clinton, he was U.S. comptroller general from 1998 to 2008. The comptroller general is the government’s chief fiscal and managerial watchdog, with broad investigative powers. It is safe to say that Walker knows whereof he speaks. He now heads the Comeback America Initiative, a nonprofit think tank promoting federal financial responsibility.
The public is generally unaware how much time off Congress takes. Walker notes it plans to adjourn and be out of town for the equivalent of a full month this spring while we confront at least two critical deadlines: March 27, when the government faces a shutdown if temporary funding resolutions aren’t renewed, and May 19, when the debt ceiling will rise. And the fiscal 2014 budget must be taken up whenever President Barack Obama sends his budget along. Plus, the lawmakers take a week off for every federal holiday and virtually all of August. (To be fair, they work two days that month, Aug. 1 and 2, before coming back the second week in September.)
A normal working stiff, Walker says, is on the job more than 90 percent of weekdays. A member of Congress works just under half, 49 percent of weekdays. He wants to see Congress reach that elusive grand bargain on taxes, spending and fiscal reform. But even if the lawmakers fall a little short of “grand,” it’s still better than what we have.
Thus, No Deal, No Break. “The premise is simple,” Walker says. “Stay in Washington and do your job and strike a meaningful fiscal deal that can restore fiscal sanity. And until that happens, don’t recess.”
Working at a job until it’s finished – what a novel concept.