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Roll Call

Committee Fields Ideas to ‘Fix’ Congress

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call
Rep. Jim Cooper is sponsoring a proposal trumpeted by the outside group No Labels that would block lawmakers’ paychecks if Congress fails to pass a budget and appropriations measures on time.

Lawmakers expressed some support Wednesday for proposals that would force Members to cooperate in the name of getting things done, which include blocking Congressional pay in some cases.

At a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing, Members and Congressional scholars testified on a handful of legislative proposals they said would “fix” a Congress that is “broken.”

“I can’t say that I agree with all I am going to hear today, but we’re holding this hearing today because it’s important that we get this debate started and keep our minds open,” said the committee’s chairman, Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.). “Congress is in crisis.”

Various polls show Congressional approval ratings hovering near 10 percent, an all-time low.

It has been three years since the Senate passed a budget and more than a decade since Congress passed both a budget and all 12 appropriations bills. Congress also narrowly averted partial government shutdowns several times last year over budget stalemates, and the government potentially hovered near default when lawmakers could not agree whether to raise the debt ceiling.

Accordingly, some of the proposals discussed Wednesday would change the way Congress approaches the budget process.

Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) wants a two-year budget cycle so that lawmakers spend the first session appropriating money and the second session weeding out bad programs.

A plan heralded by ranking member Susan Collins (R-Maine) would task a bipartisan group of six Senators with bringing a budget resolution to the floor.

Another proposal trumpeted by the outside group No Labels — made up of Republicans, Democrats and independents working to make Congress less polarized — would punish lawmakers for not cooperating.

The group’s No Budget, No Pay Act, which has sponsors in Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) and Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.), would block lawmakers’ paychecks if Congress fails to pass a budget and appropriations measures on time.

“If Congress does not complete its constitutional duties, then its Members should not be paid,” Heller said. “Members of Congress are indeed out of touch with the American people if they believe they should be rewarded for a job poorly done, or not done at all.”

Cooper said the time is ripe for his legislation, which has 34 co-sponsors evenly split between Republicans and Democrats.

“In a normal year, reform efforts like [this] would have zero chance of becoming law. … This year, however, is different,” Cooper said. “Congress hasn’t been this unpopular since polling was invented.”

Fiscally conservative Republican Sens. Ron Johnson (Wis.) and Tom Coburn (Okla.) also expressed support for the idea of putting lawmakers’ feet to the fire.

But the bill’s chances for passage or even consideration in the Senate appear to be slim.

Collins indicated after the hearing that she and Lieberman were not targeting the pay legislation for a future markup, although some of the other proposals might be considered.

“It’s a proposal I’m not sure really would be effective,” Collins told Roll Call after the hearing. “Not every Member has an equal ability to allow a budget to come to the floor.”

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