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Competing Measures Attempt to Hold Congressional Pay Hostage

Lawmakers in both chambers have proposals to curtail congressional paychecks unless there is progress toward achieving their priorities.

But although there is talk in nearly every Congress about cutting off members’ pay unless certain things happen, such proposals seldom get very far. A House vote expected Wednesday could provide an exception, although it is largely a shot at Senate paychecks.

The four-month debt limit suspension scheduled for floor action in the House includes what Republicans call a “no budget, no pay” provision that would halt the payment of House members, senators or both should either chamber not adopt a fiscal 2014 budget resolution by April 15. The Republican majority in the House should have little trouble adopting another budget resolution written by Budget Chairman Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., but the Senate has not adopted a budget resolution in recent years.

The debt limit bill appears to have enough GOP support to win House passage with its pay provision intact. But while the Democratic majority in the Senate is happy that Republicans are at least temporarily giving ground on the debt limit without insisting upon corresponding spending cuts, Democrats say they want to study the details of the salary cutoff provision.

Lawmakers in both parties have a long history of trying to demonstrate their desire to control federal spending and reduce deficits by cutting their own pay or denying themselves pay increases. Rank-and-file lawmakers are paid $174,000 annually and have been at that level for four years.

Republican Sen. Dean Heller of Nevada said he will revive his earlier proposal to cut off congressional pay unless both chambers agree on a budget resolution by the start of the new fiscal year on Oct. 1.

Heller said he supports the provision in the House debt limit extension bill but argued that his plan would provide more incentive for lawmakers to complete a budget resolution. The House bill would not require senators and representatives to agree on a budget resolution in order to be paid — only that each chamber adopt its version of a budget blueprint.

Heller began pushing for similar legislation last July. He has also backed a plan related to a bipartisan House proposal offered by Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Tenn., that would cut off lawmaker salaries if Congress has not adopted a budget resolution and completed all 12 annual appropriations bills by the start of a fiscal year.

Senate Democrats are looking at proposals to link lawmakers’ salaries to their own priorities.

Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., said she plans to renew her proposal with Bob Casey, D-Pa., to cut off congressional salaries if there is “a 24-hour lapse in appropriations for any federal agency,” or if the government is unable to pay its bills because of the debt limit.

Boxer and other Democrats say they are concerned about a possible government shutdown if no agreement can be reached to extend the stopgap spending law (PL 112-175) that expires March 27.

“Casey and I have a way better bill that says if you shut down the government, you don’t get your pay,” Boxer said.

The Constitution prohibits changes in congressional pay from taking effect until after the next election. The House GOP proposal would not change lawmakers’ salaries but would withhold payment until a budget resolution is adopted or until the end of the 113th Congress.

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