Legislative Scream: Bill Targets Lawmakers' Wallets

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WASHINGTON -- The only thing predictable about Congress these days is its inability to pass a budget on time.

It's been more than a thousand days and counting since U.S. Senate even passed a budget, and 14 years since Congress passed spending bills on time. Critics say that's no way to run a government.

"If Congress is not doing the basics, like for example, providing a budget for the government, then that is a bad thing," Bill Galston, co-founder of the bipartisan group No Labels, told CBN News.

Galston blames partisanship for much of the problem.

"The polarization between the two political parties is as sharp and complete as it has been for more than a hundred years, since the 1890s. And the polarization is producing a fair amount of gridlock," he explained.

Galston's group is backing the "No Budget, No Pay Act," a measure that would dock lawmakers' pay for failing to don't pass a budget.

Two lawmakers, Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., and Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Tenn., are co-sponsoring the bill.  

"It is a sad state of affairs that the only way you can get the United States Congress to do something is to threaten to take money out of their wallets," Heller said.

The idea behind the measure is nothing new. In February, Rep. Paul Broun, R-Ga., introduced similar legislation called the "Budget or Bust Act." Broun's bill would simply withhold paychecks until they get the job done.

But "No Budget, No Pay" takes matters further. It would literally cut off lawmakers' pay until they produced a budget, with no retroactive pay.

The measure, being called a "legislative scream" by some lawmakers, has found favor with 88 percent of Americans, according to a No Labels poll.

"It polls very well. It's almost a two-fer for the voters - you get a budget on time; you get a shot at Congress," Fmr. Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., a No Labels co-founder, told lawmakers at a hearing in March.

Some lawmakers, like Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, ranking member of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, said it's unfair to hold the rank-and-file responsible for the inaction of leadership.

"The power to negotiate a budget through a committee and bring it up for a vote on the Senate floor is not equally shared by all members," she said.

But Congress' record-low popularity could cause lawmakers to think twice before dismissing the measure.

"I talked to a member of Congress, a veteran member, who said, 'You know, Bill, if this piece of legislation ever gets to the floor, it'll pass overwhelmingly because nobody will dare to vote against it,'" Galston said.

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