Harry Reid has successfully avoided showing his cards on spending priorities for four years. The Senate majority leader has adamantly refused to bring a budget to the floor in order to leave Republican priorities hanging out as a political pinata to beat up during the campaign. The latest GOP plan, which is up for a vote in the House on Wednesday, will force the Nevada Democrat to lay his cards on the table.
The proposed legislation authorizes the Treasury to borrow as much as it needs through May 18, without any offsetting reductions in spending. In return for that generous concession, the legislation gives the House and Senate a deadline of April 15 to pass a budget. If either chamber fails to do so, paychecks for the delinquent members would be deposited in an escrow account until the lawmakers adopt a joint budget resolution.
House Speaker John A. Boehner announced this plan after meetings with his conference at their retreat last week, telling them, “The principle is simple: no budget, no pay.” President Obama is still refusing to negotiate over the debt ceiling, but the latest plan is getting a warm reception. “The fact that the House Republicans have made this decision is certainly something that we welcome,” said White House press secretary Jay Carney on Tuesday.
The idea of tying member salaries to getting their work done originated from the grass roots. Freshman Rep. Mark Meadows made the idea of “no budget, no pay” a central theme of his campaign.
As the North Carolina Republican explained in an interview with The Washington Times, the salary ultimatum shows the public “we are willing to live by the same rules as hardworking taxpayers.” The current situation, in which the House passes a budget every year without the Senate doing the same, renders negotiations the equivalent of “I’m talking to myself in the mirror,” said Mr. Meadows.
A Rasmussen poll Tuesday found 81 percent of Americans agree that Congress should take a 25 percent pay cut until the budget is balanced, but Mr. Obama wants even higher salaries. On Dec. 27, he signed an executive order granting $11 billion in pay raises to government employees, including Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., Cabinet secretaries and members of Congress.
Capitol Hill lawmakers voted to overturn their own pay increase in the debt-ceiling deal at the beginning of the year, and House Republicans plan to vote soon on overturning the rest of the government pay hikes.
There’s reason to be concerned Republicans have surrendered the principle of dollar-for-dollar spending cuts. Many solid conservative members, however, are satisfied the three-month increase in borrowing is worth trading for the chance to stop Mr. Obama from claiming Congress isn’t paying its bills.
“We use the debt ceiling as a vehicle for us to get a budget with meaningful spending cuts, which is our top priority,” explained Mr. Meadows.
The president’s use of seniors and the military as human shields to protect his spending binge has worked, unfortunately. The scare tactics have limited the Republican appetite for temporarily shutting down non-essential government functions to force needed reforms. If the latest idea succeeds in forcing Mr. Reid to agree to a spending blueprint with his House colleagues, the added transparency should help encourage a bit of spending restraint.
Emily Miller is a senior editor for the Opinion pages at The Washington Times.