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No Budget, No Pay; Debt Ceiling Extension Sweep Through House

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Recently, the US House of Representatives passed a measure called the “No Budget, No Pay Act of 2013.” The underlying concept is simple: members of Congress will not receive a paycheck until a comprehensive budget passes. The bill also extends the debt ceiling for another three months.

Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn) originally proposed the idea last year and was supported heavily by groups such as No Labels, a non-partisan organization consisting of “Democrats, Republicans and independents dedicated to the politics of problem-solving.” Now, the bill has passed the House and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has indicated it will pass the Senate.

“I am pleased that Speaker Boehner and his House colleagues have decided to change course, and pass a bill that defuses yet another fight over the debt ceiling,” Sen. Reid remarked.

Overall, the bill garnered bi-partisan support, with 199 Republicans and 89 Democrats supporting the measure. However, the bill may not be as effective as it appears.

In fact, some people believe cutting Congress’ pay at this point in time is actually unconstitutional. The argument stems from the 27th Amendment:

“No law, varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives, shall take effect, until an election of the Representatives shall have intervened.”

The key word, “varying,” creates dispute.

Because Congress cannot effectively increase (or in this case, possibly decrease) salaries until the start of the next term in 2014, the bill cannot prevent pay. The bill sidesteps this, though, by not actually cutting payments. Instead, salaries will be withheld in an escrow fund until the last day of Congress.

Members will receive their salaries once a budget passes, with no deductions whatsoever. However, should Congress fail to pass a budget at all, members will still receive the money stowed away in the escrow fund — all $348,000 ($174k per year) of it — on the last day of session.

With respect to the debt ceiling, the bill extends it by three months. While this allows more time for compromise, it does not guarantee a mitigation of the hostile political atmosphere plaguing Washington.

Unless the nation witnesses the same bi-partisan cooperation that was seen with “No Budget, No Pay Act” during the debt ceiling debates, the country will only relive the debt-debacle debates that lowered the credit rating in 2011. Still, the fact that a bi-partisan agreement occurred signals a potential change in political tension on Capitol Hill.

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