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LATHAM REPORT: Forcing Congress to Live By the Same Rules as the Rest of America

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Washington, Jan 28, 2013 | comments
Here’s a question for any responsible Iowa family. If you were facing an almost insurmountable amount of debt, wouldn’t you change direction and set a budget to begin living within your means and reverse the course of debt?

Ask almost anyone, and the answer is a no-brainer. Failing to budget — especially in times of financial hardship — is irresponsible and potentially disastrous. Unfortunately, Washington isn’t always as mindful.

In recent years, Congress has played by an empty set of rules that has allowed it to sidestep fundamental and serious responsibilities to the American people. One of the most prominent fiascos has been its failure to establish an annual budget.

This obligation is a basic job of members of the House and Senate, and is actually required by law under the Budget Act of 1974. Like it is for families in Iowa and across the country, establishing a budget is a way of prioritizing what’s important and determining what isn’t. For nearly four years — more than 1,350 days — the Senate has ignored this duty.

In 2012, the House passed a budget that, as we saw it, would’ve stabilized deficits in the short term and the debt in the long term; reformed the tax code to generate more government revenue through job growth and closing loopholes, not tax hikes; and secured Medicare for current and future generations, so that government could honor its contract with seniors and not saddle our children with the costs of the program going bankrupt.

Instead of properly considering the merits of this proposal, the Senate promptly voted it down. Instead of trying to amend the bill into something that could pass the Senate, the chamber trashed it and ignored it. In fact, the Senate voted down five separate budget proposals last year — including President Obama’s in unanimity. To top it off, instead of offering a counterproposal — a different budget of any kind — the Senate majority never drafted or brought an alternative of its own to the floor.

Whatever anyone thought of the House’s budget, the House acted. The Senate didn’t.

And now, as we are set to repeat virtually the same process in 2013, everyone is still waiting for the Senate to move. With our national debt at more than $16 trillion, this inaction is inexcusable.

For this reason, I joined a majority of the House on Wednesday in voting to approve legislation that withholds the pay of members of Congress this year if they fail to do the most basic job of passing a budget. The No Budget, No Pay Act is a commonsense measure that allows us to responsibly manage the nation’s finances while forcing members of Congress to do what every responsible Iowa family, farmer and Main Street business does each year — adopt a budget — or they won’t get paid.

Simply put to Congress: no budget, no pay.

The No Budget, No Pay Act draws from legislation I wrote and introduced last Congress and reintroduced on Wednesday, the Do Your Job Act. This bill goes further than the House-passed proposal, freezing all funds to Congressional offices — not just salaries paid to members — every year that Congress fails to adopt a budget resolution for the coming fiscal year by May 15. I favor the tougher penalties because while the No Budget, No Pay Act puts the heat on Congress to act, I feel that members should be sweating.

At this point, with trillion-dollar deficits becoming the norm, Washington has really earned it.

We shouldn’t have to dangle a paycheck from a stick to get Congress to simply perform its legal obligation to budget. That we do speaks volumes about the Senate’s institutional dysfunction. But the country is on a runaway train toward a fiscal crisis, and Americans are counting on the nation’s capital to slam the brakes. That won’t happen for as long as Congress fails to budget.

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