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August 30, 2016

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Dean Heller amendment: No budget, no pay for lawmakers

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Dean Heller

WASHINGTON -- Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has been pushing the idea of “shared sacrifice” when it comes to the budget, asking lawmakers to vote in favor of a resolution that would express it's the sense of the Senate that millionaires and billionaires ought to do their part in paying down the deficit.

Now his Republican counterpart in the Senate is challenging him: if he wants to call out millionaires and billionaires, start with himself -- and those in his midst.

Nevada Sen. Dean Heller filed an amendment to Reid’s resolution Monday that would require lawmakers to go without pay for the duration of any fiscal year for which there is not a budget, with no option for backpay later.

"It has been more than 800 days since the Senate passed a budget, ignoring one of the most fundamental responsibilities of governing,” Heller said in the statement accompanying the release of his measure. “Avoiding budget votes for political reasons is not what people want to see from their public officials. If Congress doesn't do its job, its members shouldn't get paid.”

Heller is not a fan of Reid’s underlying “sense of the Senate” resolution, or at least he’s voted against all procedural measures thus far to take it up. But he’s also not a fan, recently, of continuing resolutions -- he’s been voting against them since the government shutdown debate heated up.

Monday marked the 800th day that the U.S. government has been functioning under a continuing resolution instead of a budget, which effectively means spending is allocated, with a few tweaks, at levels it was in the previous year. Presently, the government is operating under a continuing resolution with the $38.5 billion in cuts lawmakers agreed to in April (Heller voting no) until Sept. 30, when the fiscal year ends.

Republican lawmakers have been ticking off the days the government has been functioning under a continuing resolution as part of a political campaign challenging Democrats in the Senate for abdicating their responsibility to produce a budget.

That said, Heller’s bill is equal opportunity. It doesn’t specifically single out the majority party or leaders, it just says if there’s no budget by opening day, no pay, both Houses.

Technically speaking, Congress is supposed to deliver a budget for the following fiscal year (which begins Oct. 1) by April 15. Practically speaking, that almost never happens: this year, only a week before that deadline, Congress was screeching in under the wire with its shutdown-avoiding spending resolution.

If things run their due course, congressional committees are supposed to draft and pass 13 separate appropriations bills, which are then amended and voted on in the House and Senate. The Republican House is presently working its way through such bills, but none of them are expected to pass the Democratic Senate, where the process hasn’t quite started -- suggesting that once lawmakers have resolved this debt crisis situation, the best chance for a budget will be a catch-all mega-sized omnibus spending bill to take us into fiscal 2012.

Heller’s bill is actually OK with either form.

But as much as it is motivated by the current state of affairs, it really can’t have an effect on them.

Heller’s measure doesn’t take effect until February 2013, about three months into fiscal 2013. That’s two budget deadlines and one decisive election season away.

In the meantime, neither Heller, nor Reid, nor any other lawmaker (Heller and Reid, according to recent financial disclosure forms, are both millionaires of comparable means) seem to be volunteering their salaries to set an example of shared sacrifice -- a point Republican House Majority Leader Eric Cantor actually made, in a different context, earlier Monday.

Responding to President Obama’s testimony that a debt-busting deal should include some taxes, and “the best place to get ... revenues are from folks like me who have been extraordinarily fortunate, and millionaire and billionaires that can afford to pay a little bit more,” on Monday, Cantor offered to let the president do his part.

“You know what? He can write a check any time he wants,” Cantor said.

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