Sen. George Allen, testing the 2008 presidential waters while facing his own re-election in the fall, says members of Congress should not get paid if they miss the deadline for passing a federal budget.
The Virginia Republican’s so-called “paycheck penalty” proposal has piqued the interest of fiscal conservatives, but is unpopular among his colleagues.
Mr. Allen’s critics call the proposal disingenuous, noting that last week the senator voted to increase the federal debt limit to $9 trillion.
“There’s a great need for fiscal responsibility in Washington,” Mr. Allen said yesterday. “It’s absurd that a full-time legislature at the Capitol can’t get their job done by October 1st. There is no excuse why this can’t get done on time.”
Mr. Allen said that voting to raise the debt limit was difficult, but he defended it as “responsible” to avoid higher interest rates on government bonds.
The deadline for passage is the end of the fiscal year, Sept. 30, but Congress rarely meets that date.
Lawmakers, who earn $165,200 annually, are not penalized for being late and often agree on multiple continuing resolutions before resolving the budget just before Christmastime.
Mr. Allen said the system makes it difficult for lawmakers to scrutinize all the spending because they are eager to get home for the holidays.
Harris N. Miller, a Northern Virginia businessman seeking the Democratic nomination to challenge Mr. Allen in November, balked at the proposal.
“Being a senator is very serious business, which includes using the taxpayers’ dollars wisely and learning words like ‘no,’ ” Mr. Miller said. “It’s clear that he’s failed at his job.”
Mr. Miller also called on Mr. Allen to return $229,308 to taxpayers — the amount that Mr. Miller calculated the senator has received after the budget deadline since he took office in 2001.
Mr. Allen said yesterday that the proposal works only if paychecks for all of the lawmakers are withheld, “to apply real pressure.”
Former Secretary of the Navy and author James H. Webb, who faces Mr. Miller in a June 13 Democratic primary, did not respond to calls or an e-mail to his campaign staff yesterday.
So far, no lawmakers have co-sponsored Mr. Allen’s bill, which is pending review in the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.
Mr. Allen said that Virginia, where he served as governor in the 1990s, knows how to keep a fiscal house in order. Chief executives there are allowed a line-item veto, a tool that he used several times when signing budgets. Lawmakers there, as in most states, also are required to pass balanced budgets.