Add to all that an end-of-year expiration of a host of tax cuts, followed in January by a breach of the debt limit and a monumental sequestration of defense and domestic spending (the House budget resolution would cancel sequestration in return for its deeper spending cuts), and you’re looking at a trifecta of downers: a fiscal breakdown, a government shutdown and a financial meltdown.
The sensible approach would be to abort those dangerous scenarios now by adopting budget resolutions in both chambers that will allow for working through differences up front in a House-Senate conference committee, using reconciliation to deal with all the tax, sequester and debt reduction challenges. The BCA does not provide such a fallback process now because the super committee was a one-shot deal, and it misfired. But its unfinished business remains.
The group No Labels has proposed docking every House and Senate Member’s pay for every day after Oct. 1 that Congress has not completed action on a budget resolution and all appropriations bills. I testified in the Senate against their “No Budget, No Pay” proposal as a bad idea because it unnecessarily punishes and demeans the entire institution, thereby further diminishing public respect for Congress (how low can you go?).
There is no question constructive steps must be taken to ensure on-time delivery of all money bills and that impetus must emanate from the top leaders in Congress. But most Members are not directly responsible for the delays in budget bills. Cutting their pay over missed budget deadlines implies not only that all Members are to blame but that they are sitting around doing nothing in the interim. The fact is most Members are still working hard on other legislative matters despite budgetary holdups.
Nevertheless, if Congress blows up this fiscal year by its collective sins of omission, some Members will be punished in one form or another, most likely at the polls.
Don Wolfensberger is a Congressional scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center, a resident scholar with the Bipartisan Policy Center and former staff director of the House Rules Committee.