One way to force compromise in Congress: No budget, no pay

The Fix Congress Now Caucus is a bipartisan task force of representatives committed to fixing Congress through meaningful reforms. Our first goal: Pass the No Budget, No Pay Act, which would require Congress to pass a budget on time or have members' salaries withheld until it does.

J. Scott Applewhite/AP/file
Sen. Max Baucus (D) of Montana, left, reaches across the table to shake hands with Rep. Fred Upton (R) of Michigan after bipartisan House and Senate conferees signed a compromise agreement on the payroll tax cut extension Feb. 16. Op-ed contributors from the Fix Congress Now Caucus want to advance 'policies that reflect the common ground that binds us together.'

The American people recognize that the 112th Congress is arguably the least popular and least productive in modern history, underscored by its underwhelming 12 percent approval rating.

Continuous campaigning, careerism, and plush committee assignments plague a once productive and results-oriented body, resulting in inaction and hyper-partisanship. While members of Congress and special interests make political and financial gains, the American people suffer. This cannot continue.

Understanding this urgent need for reform, we founded the Fix Congress Now Caucus. This bipartisan task force of 11 reform-minded representatives is deeply committed to fixing this broken institution – not through accusations or empty promises, but through substantive reforms to processes, rules, and the organizational structures under which Congress governs itself.

These reforms, to be worked through and implemented over time, will help ensure that members of Congress focus more on what is good for the country and less on what advances individual political careers.

The caucus is pursuing a variety of initiatives with themes that include improving the tone and civility of our debate, aligning congressional benefits to those in the private sector, tying pay to performance, decentralizing power, changing committee structure, and forcing Congress to pass an annual budget – on time.

Our bipartisan group has already held several meetings to discuss and identify common ground – common sense measures and initiatives that can truly reform Congress. The consensus among our members is that the issue in greatest need of immediate action is budget reform. The best way to move that forward is by supporting H.R. 3643, the No Budget, No Pay Act.

The No Budget, No Pay Act requires both chambers of Congress to pass a budget and all 12 appropriations bills by Oct. 1 of that fiscal year. If this requirement is not met, then members of Congress will not get paid salaries for every day the budget and appropriations bills aren’t passed. And they couldn't recoup pay retroactively either. It is the same premise behind why every hard-working American gets up to go to work each morning: You don’t do the work, you don’t get paid.

By holding Congress’ feet to the fire, each chamber would be incentivized to work together and pass each of the 12 spending bills.

The No Budget, No Pay Act will hopefully make “continuing resolutions” and government shutdowns a thing of the past. There is already broad bipartisan support for the bill: 22 Democrats and 33 Republicans have signed on to the House version. We are calling on House leadership to hold a hearing on this bill and get it to the House floor for a vote. Sen. Dean Heller (R) of Nevada introduced this same bill in the Senate, and the bill has already collected bipartisan support there.

In the coming weeks and months, we will draw attention to similar-minded reforms that will improve the way Washington functions, including addressing the budget process, committee structure, and generally elevating the tone of our debate here in Washington.

We fully acknowledge that much work and opposition stand before the Fix Congress Now Caucus since many of these ideas run counter to the interests of many individuals and the way Washington politics works. But we are confident this effort will not be in vain. Congress is less popular than it’s ever been. America has already had its credit rating downgraded once, thanks in part to congressional gridlock and dysfunction.

However, when we are successful, partisan games will take a backseat to genuine progress. It is time to fix Congress, and we hope our colleagues on both sides of the aisle will join us in advancing policies that reflect the common ground that binds us together.

Representatives Scott Rigell (R) of Virginia, Jim Cooper (D) of Tennessee, Reid Ribble (R) of Wisconsin, and Kurt Schrader (D) of Oregon are the founders of the Fix Congress Now Caucus.

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