I actually like the Republicans’ “No Budget, No Pay” politics, even though it won’t go in to effect. The House GOP knows this of course and is likely hoping their rhetoric doesn’t become reality. Most Members of Congress aren’t rich and could use the paycheck each month. And let’s be clear, House Republicans don’t actually want to vote on a budget passed by Senate Democrats — unless it has 100% of what they like in it, right? Regardless, I would vote for “No Budget, No Pay.”
If the “No Budget, No Pay” proposal did pass, we’d probably still pass a budget the American people would hate. And that’s why budgets are so hard to pass – voters talk tough on the front end and then when Congress proposes tough decisions that cut popular programs, they urge their Congressman to vote ‘No’ on the “heartless” budget or risk defeat in November. Trust me, it’s a bicameral and bipartisan problem to find enough votes to pass anything, especially dealing directly with taxes and spending cuts. It might get a bit easier if Grover Norquist and the AARP finally went to the glue factory. They’re both more interested in cashing checks and keeping the status quo than compromising to advance the debate.
Oh, and I hate to burst everyone’s bubble, but while a law requires Congress to pass budgets, budgets themselves are technically “resolutions” or a “sense of Congress,” which means they do not have the effect of law.
Either way, I think we should still pass a budget resolution every year. Harry Reid does not deserve a pass, although I understand his political rationale. Every business or government should draw a blue print on paper and promote internal accountability while also appeasing informed taxpayers, rating agencies, or shareholders. But it ought to be a real budget, not a partisan math-gimmick contest (see every budget the White House and Paul Ryan have unveiled since 2011). I don’t care how much I like you, counting money we “would have spent” in Iraq (and thus borrowed) as “savings” is, well, “special.”
It’s not as if either party is absolved of blame. It’s not that by not passing a budget Congressmen are “not doing their jobs.” It’s that by listening to their constituents, they actually are! Our republic is operating more like a real democracy (hence the chaos).
I’d like to see a “No entitlement reform, No Congressional pension” rule put in place while we’re at it. Reigning in the massive growth of these programs, actually reforming the tax code, and promoting policies to achieve steady 4% GDP growth is the only real way to balance America’s budget. Bill Clinton didn’t see surpluses in the 1990s because he simply raised taxes and then reigned in spending programs– he also had an economy create 20,000,000 new jobs. The private sector loves to see the public sector on solid footing, even if it means slightly higher costs.
It’s easier for Democrats to raise taxes on millionaires and Republicans to cut assistance programs for the poor than it will be to tackle the ACTUAL drivers of our debt: retirement and health care programs for everyone else and a Swiss cheese tax code at all levels. No one wants to touch these. But we don’t have a choice. The question is “how much and over what acceptable period of time?” Any partisan talking head you see on TV acting like we don’t have a problem is just that: a partisan talking head.
All of this needs to be done in a thoughtful balance – if spending is slashed or taxes increased too quickly, it could curb economic growth and no one wants to put more pressure on the middle class or retirees. But frankly, we’re on an unsustainable path. I wish we not only could pass an annual budget, but could attempt longer term targets – especially while interest rates are at record lows and our effective tax rates are the lowest they’ve been since 1958.
Passing a bad budget every year for the sake of passing a budget is what got us in this mess. We don’t have a “domestic discretionary spending problem” or a “foreign aid problem.” We have a “lack of balls to make tough decisions problem.” It’s hard to put that in a budget resolution that garners 218 votes in the House and 60 in the Senate.
(Sidebar: I love a good filibuster, but we shouldn’t simply respect these threats. We ought to make Senators come down on the floor and read the damn phone book or educate us about the ancient Etruscans for hours or days at a time. If they have a serious objection or are just playing partisan games, Senators should have to work hard for their obstruction and give us something entertaining to watch on television. Just threatening a filibuster is chicken-shit. I digress.)
Rob Ellsworth is a former top aide to Democratic and Republican Members of Congress and is currently a founding Partner of Majority Group, a Washington DC-based consulting firm.