The route to a real budget deal

February 25, 2013

There are glimmers of light in our battle to put America’s finances in order. New hope for a long-term budget deal has come in the form of two ideas, both from outside Congress, that many of our elected officials have embraced:“No Budget, No Pay” and “No Deal, No Break.”

The critical matter now is whether these two initiatives will lead to serious negotiations, or just be rhetorical weapons in Washington’s political warfare.

Both these campaigns speak to substantive needs we have as a nation. “No Budget, No Pay” is a signature campaign of No Labels, a national coalition of Republicans, Democrats and independents advocating that Washington should focus on progress not partisanship. I am a co-founder of this group.

“No Deal, No Break” is a nonpartisan effort supported by my organization, the Comeback American Initiative, and others. It is pushing for Congress to stay in session until a deal is reached.

“No Budget, No Pay” is intended to pressure our politicians by withholding their salaries if they don’t pass a timely budget. Federal law spells out that Congress should pass a budget by April 15 each year. Yet the Senate has not passed a budget in four years, and Congress has not passed a budget and related spending bills on time in 15 years.

This is an abdication of duty, especially since we face a federal financial hole of about $71.5 trillion, a deficit that is growing by $350 billion a month.

To its credit, the GOP leadership in the House of Representatives has endorsed and then passed, with bipartisan support, a version of “No Budget, No Pay.” The legislation then won the support of the Senate and the White House. As a result, both chambers will likely pass a budget by April 15.

But that’s not the end of the story, by a long shot.

The “No Budget, No Pay” legislation that passed is a watered-down version of the plan No Labels supported. Nonetheless it is a major step forward. We need to be realistic, however, about the ways that Congress and the White House can play politics with it.

Our elected officials can technically adhere to “No Budget, No Pay” without moving the ball far enough forward for a meaningful fiscal deal. The Senate and the House can come up with individual budgets. Yet unless these budgets are reconciled, we won’t have the basis for a real fiscal correction. It will be action without concrete results.

Also, a reconciled budget needs to lead to appropriations bills that actually detail how the money will be spent. Until that happens, we won’t have legislation that corresponds to the budget. These steps — a joint budget and appropriations — are trip wires that can undo the progress made by “No Budget, No Pay.”

Our elected officials can’t be allowed to declare victory prematurely and then slide back into nonaction. Congress, in fact, could enact a more comprehensive, substantive and long-term “No Budget, No Pay” bill that will be effective in the next Congress.

“No Deal, No Break” is a similarly strong message that Washington politicians can undermine if we don’t keep on them. The House and Senate take breaks and holidays from their Washington duties that would get the rest of us fired. According to the House calendar, for example, our representatives will be on the job in Washington for less than 50 percent of weekdays in 2013. Not only do they get a full week off for President’s Day and virtually every federal holiday, they take off a “Spring Break” and most of August.

With the sequester threat looming, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and other Democrats came out in support of “No Deal, No Break.” Just as I applaud GOP efforts to promote “No Budget, No Pay,” I commend Democrats for embracing “No Deal, No Break.”

But here’s the problem: The deal we need is about far more than addressing the sequester. Our elected officials must agree to a fiscal Grand Bargain in 2013 ‑ or they will have once again punted on the tough decisions that define leadership.

We know the issues that could eventually sink our ship of state: demographics that are predicted to overwhelm our social insurance programs, rising healthcare costs and an outdated, unfair and inadequate tax system.

It will take critical reforms in all these areas to get our economy on a sound footing for the long term. This is the main reason we should insist that our politicians stay in session until a Grand Bargain is accomplished.

Will our elected officials insist they lived up to “No Deal, No Break” by coming to agreement on the sequester? If so, that pledge will be one more missed opportunity for real progress.

I urge everyone to press their elected representatives to take both campaigns seriously. Don’t let them use “No Budget, No Pay” and “No Deal, No Break” as phrases to throw at their opponents, while ignoring the real meaning of these efforts.


PHOTO Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) walks away after handing the gavel to House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio.) during the first day of the 113th Congress in the Capitol in Washington January 3, 2013. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque


We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see

What you describe as a penalty is merely a postponement–as under the current model they are reimbursed for lost compensation once a bill is pass. That dilutes the pain.

If you want real teeth in this proposition, nick them the full 30 days compensation for both the Senator (Representative) AND their staffs. They would lose a full month’s salary for each month (e.g. April 16, May 15, June 15, etc.) a budget is not approved and submitted to the President for signature. And when I say “lose their salary” I mean it–no reimbursement after the fact!

Let each Senator and Representative explain to both their staff, and their spouse back home, that they are not getting paid this month because they are incapable of getting the job done.

Posted by COindependent | Report as abusive

You’re kidding, right? This comes across as impossibly naive or an attempt at satire. It certainly is desperate.

If you want to open up the channels of legislative action that supports the general welfare, pass a bill that prevents legislators and their staffs from joing the ranks of the lobbyists at any time within two years after they leave office or their positions. The definition of lobbying activity would have to be broad enough to catch activities like that of the ex Speaker of the House who claimed to provide “historical advice” to Fannie Mae, certainly not “lobbying”.

Congress is so good at turning what would otherwise be criminal activity into something “legal” for them. The writing of IOUs – never to be repaid – against the Social Security and Highway “Trust” Funds would be considered embezzlement in the private sector.

Posted by ptiffany | Report as abusive

I dislike big leftist journalists.

Posted by AJ876 | Report as abusive

American citizens elect their government, charging them with the duty to govern. Managing the expenses of operating government is one of the most fundamental expectations of the job.

If they are incapable of performing that duty in a timely fashion, they shouldn’t just get their pay nicked. They should be tarred and feathered and forced to resign en masse.

Posted by breezinthru | Report as abusive

I hope Mr. Walker and his supporters are successful. I don’t believe they will be though. The only way to “save” the US government is to hold a public vote to put term limits on Congress and the SCOTUS, and a second vote on the ballot for campaign finance reform. Without those two thing, nothing can safely be “fixed” past the next election cycle.

Posted by tmc | Report as abusive

Why does Reuters give a Petersen Institute shill space? Shouldn’t this be paid advertising for the billionaire class?

The Grand Bargain is nothing more than taking earned benefits from the elderly and transferring those benefits to corporations.

This problem would go away if (1) deferred compensation, capital gains and carried interest were taxed as ordinary income, (2) FICA was applied to ALL income at lower rates and (3) progressive income tax at Eisenhower-era rates (indexed to inflation) were re-instituted, (5) single-payer health care was instituted and (5) the US cut military and security spending to OECD levels.

Walker is a shill for billionaires. Dump this guy — he has nothing to say that you can’t get from Koch brothers or AEI.

Posted by upstater | Report as abusive