No Budget, No Pay For Congress

Rep. Joe Pitts
Pottstown Mercury

Imagine if you paid a neighborhood boy to mow your lawn. For a few weeks he does a good job, but then he just stops cutting part of the front lawn. Week after week, he leaves a big patch that grows tall and weedy. Would you keep paying him? Of course not. You set out a job for him and he’s clearly not doing it. You would withhold his pay until he started mowing the whole lawn again.

The last time the U.S. Senate passed a budget was nearly four years ago. In that time, the weeds have certainly grown thick. We’ve had four straight years of trillion dollar deficits, leaving us with a total national debt of $16.4 trillion.

The last time Senate Democrats put together a budget, they projected that the deficit for fiscal year 2013 would be $581 billion. It’s now looking like they will be off by more than $400 billion. Four years later, and the deficit is still anticipated to run more than $1 trillion this year.

The federal government has continued to run, so what does the budget do? The federal budget process is complex, and certainly in need of reform. However, if the process is followed, it helps the President and Congress to think deeply about present spending and plan for the coming years. Ignoring that process and continuing to fund the federal government is like running forward at full speed with a blindfold on.

In 2009, Democrats were in full control of Congress. After the defection of Sen. Arlen Specter, they had a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. They used this majority to pave the way for massive increases in spending including the fiscal year 2009 omnibus appropriations act, the stimulus bill, and Obamacare.

By 2010, it was apparent that all this spending was adding up and not boosting the economy as anticipated. Neither the Senate nor the House would pass a budget in that year. With the country concerned about the explosion of spending, Congressional leaders simply didn’t want to admit that they had no real plan to control deficits.

Republicans promised to put out an honest budget. For the last two years, House Republicans have passed budgets that promote private sector growth, cut wasteful spending, strengthen entitlement programs, and balance over the long-term. Meanwhile, Democrats have used these budgets to attack Republicans. Going so far as to cut a commercial showing a Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) look-alike pushing an elderly woman in a wheelchair off the cliff.

Going without a budget has certainly been politically advantageous for Democrats. Republicans have been viciously attacked for efforts to shore up the shaky finances of the Medicare and Medicaid programs. The Trustees of these programs warn Congress over and over again that under present law the government will run out of money to fully fund these programs. Something has to be done and it will not be politically popular. Unfortunately, only one side has put their solutions down on paper.

This has to end. I believe that we can compromise and come together to get the federal government’s finances in better shape. But we can’t do that until both sides are honest about their solutions. Not working on a budget has allowed Senate Democrats to pretend the problem doesn’t exist.

Last week, the House passed the No Budget, No Pay Act. This bill would temporarily lift the debt ceiling for the next three months, giving Congress time to complete our standard budget process. If a chamber fails to pass a budget, then their pay would be stopped. Paychecks wouldn’t go out again until a budget is passed or the end of the Congress is reached in 2015. (The 27th Amendment to the Constitution prohibits Congress from modifying pay for the current session.)

The House will pass a budget again this year and Speaker John Boehner and Chairman Paul Ryan have committed to passing a plan that balances within ten years. The American people sent us to Washington to make the tough decisions about how taxpayer dollars should be spent. It’s past time that we do the job.

Congressman Joe Pitts is a Republican who represents Pennsylvania’s 16th Congressional District in parts of Berks, Chester and Lancaster counties.

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