Ask the Advisor: September 2013

Ask the Advisor: September 2013

Is Congress Getting A Paycheck This Year?

Q: Congress made a big deal over "No Budget No Pay" earlier this year. But what happened since? Was a budget ever passed? Is Congress getting a paycheck this year? 

A: House Republicans surprised the nation earlier this year by approving an increase to the federal budget debt limit in exchange for passing the "No Budget, No Pay Act." The legislation required Members of Congress in both chambers to pass a budget resolution by April 15, 2013, or their pay would be withheld until they do. According to a TSCL poll, 62 percent of seniors thought the "No Budget, No Pay Act" was a smart move that would get the legislative process back on track.

But so far Members of Congress haven’t received a paycheck. Eric Pianin, a journalist who covers the federal budget for The Fiscal Times, perhaps expressed it best as a "brilliant budget tactic that backfired." The House last March passed a new budget along party lines that would achieve a surplus within ten years, mainly through deep spending cuts and reforms to Medicare, Medicaid and other entitlements. Earlier this spring the Senate took up the challenge and passed a $3.6 trillion budget that has greatly different priorities for spending and taxes than the budget passed by the House. But neither Senate nor House negotiators have met in conference where the two chambers would negotiate differences and produce a compromise budget agreement.

That doesn't mean that a budget agreement is completely out of the question – or the much more unlikely scenario – that Congress won't get paid. The No Budget No Pay Act holds Congressional paychecks in escrow, and, by law, will release the funds either when a budget agreement is reached, or on the last day of the 113th Congress, which ends on December 31, 2014.

Two years is a long time for even Members of Congress to go without a paycheck – giving them a good incentive to bury the budget hatchet. The government will again reach the federal budget limit later this fall. A group of Republican senators have been meeting privately with the White House to lay the groundwork for a deficit reduction agreement. President Obama included a proposal to cut Social Security cost-of-living-adjustments (COLAs) in his fiscal year 2014 budget. GOP leaders are trying to work out a compromise on a new spending agreement. TSCL is fighting COLA cuts and visiting Members of Congress. We urge you to send letters to the editor of your local media to educate the public on the importance of the COLA and to use examples of rising costs that illustrate the erosion in the buying power of your benefits.

But one thing is for sure: regardless of whether any agreements on the federal budget are reached or not, Congress will get their pay – eventually.

Source: "How Republicans' Brilliant Budget Tactic Backfired," Eric Pianin, The Fiscal Times, May 28, 2013.