Two longtime Iowa congressmen from opposing political parties are stepping out to support an old idea with new life — restrictions on congressional salaries.
Representatives Tom Latham (R) and Dave Loebsack (D) are each sponsoring bills that would curtail 70 years’ worth of precedent in Washington. Latham wants to ban Congress from receiving pay whenever it fails to pass a budget; Loebsack simply wants a 10 percent pay cut.
While the ideas are far from unprecedented, the congressmen’s efforts are notable for two reasons this year.
First, Latham’s idea already was written into law as part of the debt ceiling increase the House approved earlier this month.
Secondly, having members of both parties support the plan could increase the chances for a bipartisan bill, especially with Congress in such a cost-cutting mood over the past three years.
Latham’s bill is a follow-up to an initial attempt last year. He told The Gazette it could actually take effect during this current fiscal year, and would freeze all funds to Congressional offices every year Congress fails to adopt a budget resolution for the coming fiscal year.
The House already passed a “No Budget, No Pay” Act on Wednesday by a vote of 285-144. It would prohibit pay to any members of the House or Senate if a budget resolution for the current fiscal year is not adopted by April 15. Salaries would be held in escrow and paid out at a later date. But the measure is temporary; a debt ceiling increase will be up for debate again in May, so Latham said a permanent law is needed.
Two independent, non-partisan government watchdog officials in Washington applauded the bills, but said they are only a first step.
“Every year there are people who raise this issue, and the fact that there are more people raising it now does mean there’s a shift,” said Ryan Alexander, president of Taxpayers for Common Sense. “So we applaud the belt-tightening. But at the same time, they need to consider their campaign contributions and special interest donations. We need important decisions to be made, and this is one small step.”
Pete Sepp, executive vice president of the National Taxpayers Union watchdog group, said while it is not unusual for bills such as Latham’s and Loebsack’s to be introduced, it is notable that Latham’s idea has become law, at least temporarily.
“There is much to be said about leveling with the American people about how Congress’s pay works,” Sepp told The Gazette. “It’s one way of separating the true believers from the opportunists. They’re for lawmakers who want reform instead of a respite.”
An official at a third government watchdog group, Craig Holman of Public Citizen, said the “No Budget, No Pay” Act may be unconstitutional because the 27th amendment — ratified in 1992 by states — only allows Congress to raise its pay, not to otherwise alter it.
“In any case, the measure may become law and could have unfortunate consequences for congressmen, like (Minnesota Rep.) Keith Ellison, who are not wealthy. It could also apply undue pressure for the non-wealthy members of Congress to vote for a budget that they otherwise would not,” Holman said.
Latham noted that passing a budget already is required of Congress every year, but Congress has ignored that requirement for the past several years.
“The concept was passed with the debt ceiling increase,” Latham said. “It’s something that a lot of people have talked about, and there are a lot of versions that have been introduced. So the concept has broad support. It’s something that people understand, that we’re never going to get our fiscal house in order in Washington unless people are serious about the budget just like any family or any business.”
Loebsack told The Gazette he was unaware of Latham’s bill, but welcomes it. He has previously sponsored similar legislation, most recently a 5 percent pay cut bill with fellow Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona.
“It’s important that the American people see Congress understands what they’re going through,” Loebsack said. “And Congress needs to make sacrifices to do that. I’ve run it by a few people who have jumped on board, and when I head back to D.C. I’m going to get as many people behind this as possible.”