Why, after all these years, the Senate is working on a budget (+VIDEO)
Senate Democrats didn't pass a budget resolution for the previous three years, but they are taking steps to do it this year. Three things, in particular, have changed.
Ever since 1974, it has been the law of the land that Congress pass an annual budget, yet it has been nearly four years since the US Senate participated in the process.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Even without this legally mandated budget – a nonbinding roadmap for taxing and spending committees – the government can function.
Moreover, budget resolutions were typically passed at least a month late or, more and more recently, not at all. Congress failed to complete a budget resolution for fiscal years 1999, 2003, 2005, 2007, 2011, 2012, or 2013.
This week, the Senate starts debate on its first budget resolution to head to the floor since 2009, raising an obvious question:
Why, after all the omissions and delays, is the Senate acting now – and in such an unusually timely way?
Here are the three reasons cited by lawmakers.
No. 1: No budget, no pay
For the first time, senators (and other members of Congress) won’t get paid unless they pass a budget resolution.
The idea of hitting lawmakers in the purse sprung from No Labels, a grass-roots, nonpartisan group that aims to break partisan gridlock in Washington and "make Congress work."
“If you actually have regular order on the budget, even in a divided Congress, both parties put their conceptions of the right course for the country on the table, and that’s good for democracy,” says Bill Galston, a co-founder of No Labels, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington, and a former domestic policy adviser in the Clinton administration.
The idea caught on. The Senate held a hearing in March 2012 and Comedy Central's "The Colbert Report," among others, covered it. The House did not take up the proposal, but the veteran House chair who punted on holding a hearing on the measure was narrowly defeated in November by a Democratic challenger who campaigned on “no budget, no pay."
In January, House Republicans included a revised version of the measure as a sweetener in the debt-ceiling deal that suspended enforcement of the $16.4 trillion limit through May 19. The No Budget, No Pay Act passed Jan. 23 on a bipartisan vote, 285 to 144. The Senate passed the House bill on Jan. 31.
Now, if the House or Senate fails to pass its own budget resolution by April 15, pay for members will be held in an escrow account until (1) a budget is passed, or (2) the end of the 113th Congress in December 2014.
No. 2: Sequestration
The “sequester” spending cuts now extending security lines at airports, voiding passes to tour the White House, and limiting visits to the south rim of the Grand Canyon are becoming a reality for Americans and the lawmakers that represent them – and $85 billion in across-the-board cuts for the current fiscal year is just the beginning. The Budget Control Act mandates a total of $1.2 trillion in sequester cuts over 10 years.