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March 19, 2019

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Jon Ralston:

Dean Heller’s budget stunt is cynical nonsense

9/11 Memorial Ceremony

Steve Marcus

Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV) watches a procession during a 9/11 memorial ceremony at Police Memorial Park Sunday, September 11, 2011.

Sen. Dean Heller’s “No Budget No Pay” bill is the dumbest idea to come along in some time.

And maybe the smartest.

Heller, who spoke about his ingenious idiocy on the Senate floor Tuesday, has proposed a placebo to a seething electorate, cynically tapping into voter fury to further his own interests but certainly not the country’s. As election-year stunts go, it’s not enough to call this one empty because that would imply it’s harmless.

It’s not. That’s because it is not designed to fix or ameliorate but to bring the barbarians to the gates while Heller, hiding inside his Trojan Horse of an “idea,” pretends to be in D.C. but not of D.C.

When Heller first proposed this idea to cut off congressional salaries if the Senate and House did not pass a budget, I thought it was an obvious ploy that would garner him a news cycle worth of local headlines. But during the past year, as I’m sure his pollster has told him, people have eaten up the “idea,” and so he has grown more emboldened. “No Budget No Pay” is emblematic of the worst in politics — a hollow catchphrase with no heft or substance. The Democrats are more expert at such silliness — they want to “protect and preserve Medicare,” but few have any idea how to do so.

On its face, the idea that docking their pay would make members of Congress more responsive is laughable. Does Heller not know that almost half are millionaires and that the other half probably will come close during their terms? Of course he does.

Yes, many of them would feel a hit of a couple hundred grand. But if so, why stop at a budget? Why not force them to forfeit their pay if they vote for a budget that will “end Medicare as we know it” or create “death panels” for the elderly?

Or go further: If Heller is really serious — and he’s not — why not propose if they don’t pass a budget that they all must resign? I bet the public would go crazy for that one, Senator.

What finally caused me to rant about this crass political stratagem was Heller’s seven-minute floor speech Tuesday. I was surprised none of his colleagues slugged him.

The senator, showing he is bereft of any sense of irony, gave this Capraesque speech as if he were Heller just come to Capitol Hill, a Polyannaish do-gooder who just couldn’t believe what his colleagues were doing.

Heller began his talk about his No-Chance-No-How bill by risibly talking about having a “serious debate about the future of our nation. ... The American people do not believe today’s debate is serious.”


Heller then went on to obliquely insult Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, including suggesting the Club of 100’s business “could be considered political comedy if the stakes weren’t so high.” I think he just called you a buffoon, Sen. Reid.

But then Heller went on to show his level of self-awareness is even lower than I thought.

“This is nothing less than a political sideshow,” Heller declared, speaking about the non-budget debate, but he could have been referring to the measure he was about to talk about.

And then, the senator asked, “Ever wonder why the approval rating of Congress is so low?”

Not really, Senator. But let me guess: Is it because of pointless stunts like this one?

Heller did concede, however, that his bill is “not a silver-bullet solution.” Really? The way you talk about it ...

The legislative juggernaut then revealed that he had managed to secure 10 — count ’em — co-sponsors for his going-nowhere bill, which, last I took out my calculator, is one-tenth of the U.S. Senate. Impressive.

Oh, I understand: When you propose to take away your colleagues’ salary, they will not flock to sign onto your bill. So that just helps the meme Heller is forwarding — that he, a three-term congressman, former secretary of state and ex-assemblyman, is not a politician but that rare bird who soars above the rest of the foul political fowl.

“Our nation can literally no longer afford to survive on sound bites and press releases about the importance of budgeting,” concluded the man who has sent out more than two dozen news releases on “No Budget No Pay” since July. (Hey, “No Labels” endorsed!)

As Heller might say, this would be funny if the stakes weren’t so high. They are, so it’s not. Indeed, it preys on the ingenuousness of the public for a crass purpose (getting votes) that has nothing to do with solving the budget crisis.

I’m sure many people reading this will be outraged by what they see as my condescension to the average voter. If so, I have some mitigating news: I’ve got nothing on Dean Heller’s lack of respect for you.

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