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"No Budget No Pay" Is 3rd GOP Budget Misstep In A Row

28 Jan 2013
Posted by Stan Collender

It now looks like the Senate on Wednesday will pass the "no budget no pay" version of the debt ceiling increase that has already been adopted by the House.

This will be the third GOP budget miscalculation, misstep and mistake in a row.

The first was the fiscal cliff, which turned out to be a political debacle for congressional Republicans in general and House Speaker John Boehner (OH) in particular. Boehner's Plan B disaster will go down in U.S. political history as one of the most ill-conceived efforts by any speaker on any issue. The ultimate result was that the House GOP was forced to do something it told its base it would never do -- allow an increase in taxes to be considered and enacted. It also had to kill the so-called Hastert rule (nothing comes to the House floor unless a majority of the majority are in favor of it) to do it.

The second was the empty GOP threat to use the federal debt ceiling to get the White House to agree to spending cuts. The dollar-for-dollar formula that for months Boehner had been saying was a nonnegotiable demand was completely dropped when the administration refused to negotiate.

The result was a Republican proposal to do something that would have had the GOP caucus issuing angry denunciations had it been offered by Democrats: Induce fiscal amnesia on Capital Hill by requiring that the debt ceiling be ignored for three months and then raising it in May without a vote to account for the hundreds of billions of dollars in addition borrowing that is projected to take place between now and then.

The supposed saving grace for congressional Republicans was the "no budget no pay" plan that was attached to what should be known as the Debt Ceiling Amnesia Act. This plan allowed the GOP to reiterate one of its key talking points -- that the Democrat-controlled Senate had not passed a budget over the past four years -- and make it look like they would be responsible for getting Senate Democrats to deal with the budget.

The problem with the no budget no pay plan is that, while the Senate will likely pass its own version of a congressional budget resolution because of the law, will not spur any real action on budget issues. The ultimate result, therefore, will be that the GOP talking point will be gone -- after all, the Senate will have adopted a budget -- but Republicans will have gotten nothing real for allowing the debt ceiling to rise.

Here's why:

1. Budget resolutions don't actually increase or decrease outlays or revenues. They may assume that changes like that will happen, but those decisions are left up to the committees with jurisdiction over spending and taxes.

2. Budget resolutions also are general rather than specific. A budget resolution may assume that revenues will increase compared to current law, but the legislative language doesn't specify how that increase will occur. It could be the result of an enacted increase in rates or elimination of deductions, greater economic growth or supply-side-like dynamic scoring.

3. The same is true of spending. A reduction in any department's budget could be the result of an assumption of less waste, fraud and abuse. It could also be the result of enacted legislation eliminating a program or two.

4. Because of #s 2 and 3, it's not all that hard to show a substantially declining deficit without requiring any actual changes in anything the government does.

5. The GOP no budget no pay plan only requires that the Senate pass its own version of a budget resolution, not that it has agree with the House on a conference report. No budget resolution conference agreement means that reconciliation doesn't happen, and in the current hyper partisan environment that pervades the budget debate in Washington that virtually eliminates any chance of anything happening on revenues, Medicare, and Medicaid this year.

6. The no budget no pay provisions provide the incentive that some Democratic senators didn't have to vote for a budget. They'll vote for a resolution for the first time in years just to make sure that they and their colleagues get paid on time. And they get a bonus by eliminating the GOP talking point about the Senate not passing a budget.

That means that no budget no pay not only doesn't matter, it also may be as big of a GOP political misstep as the fiscal cliff and debt ceiling combined.

Stan, my sense is that you

Stan, my sense is that you greatly overestimate the extent to which ordinary non-budget-wonk citizens have any clue about this crappe. All this kind of legislative maneuvering is all just contentless murmuring to them, like the teacher in Peanuts. The only things that have salience are real, big, scary things: default, government shutdown, actual tax or benefit increases/decreases.

So yeah, Boehner and the Repubs looked like total patsies when they caved on the fiscal cliff and debt ceiling. But these subtleties about whether the requirement to pass a budget actually means anything is not going to register.

Constitutional Conservatives?

Then there's the little issue that a bunch of constitutional conservatives now support "No budget, no pay" which is, to put it mildly, incontrovertably unconstitutional. Perhaps the GOP didn't get to the 27th Amendment when they read the Constitution at the beginning of the session.

Yes, I'm aware that NBNP is a gimmick and the GOP will gladly rail against activist judges for throwing out the pay restriction (if it ever gets to court), but jeez, you'd think they would try to protect their pretense of concern for the Constitution.

Kill the Budget Resolutions

Congressional budget resolutions are empty. Get rid of both and leave the budgeting up to the executive. Then Congress can devote its attention to the real deal -- appropriating, taxing, and entitlement formulas.

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