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Lawmaker Pay Again in Play as Democrats Tie Paychecks to Debt Limit

Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call
Boxer, the Democrats’ chief deputy whip, said her measure requiring lawmaker salaries to be suspended if the government is unable to meet obligations could be brought up as a stand-alone proposal or as an amendment to unrelated legislation.

Democrats in the Senate and House are pushing proposals to suspend lawmaker pay if Congress does not authorize a higher debt limit when the need arrives this fall.

In what amounts to a kind of turnabout on the Republican “no budget, no pay” measure the GOP aimed at Senate Democrats this year, Sen. Barbara Boxer of California and Rep. Jim McDermott of Washington said they want member pay halted when the government is unable to meet is financial obligations.

“Our legislation would help prevent a catastrophic default by putting pressure on lawmakers to do the right thing and honor our nation’s financial obligations,” Boxer said Wednesday.

The Boxer-McDermott plan comes as Republicans are talking more openly about how they plan to use the need to raise federal borrowing authority to exact spending concessions from Democrats, suggesting a replay of a 2011 showdown that roiled financial markets and spawned the deficit reduction law (PL 112-25) that includes the sequester. Speaker John A. Boehner on Wednesday revived a major demand from that debate, saying he wants “cuts and reforms” in entitlement spending equivalent to the level of the increase in the debt limit.

The sharp words back and forth are growing even as the urgency on the debt limit, and the deficit, has diminished.

The Treasury Department has used what it calls “extraordinary measures” to put off the need for new borrowing since a suspension of the debt limit expired May 19. The Congressional Budget Office estimates new borrowing authority will be needed by October or November, but Republicans and Democrats both are seeking to maintain some urgency about the issue as they jockey for political position ahead of a bigger showdown.

The House on May 9 passed a payment “prioritization” bill (HR 807) aimed at calming financial markets and benefits recipients while restricting leverage for Democrats. It would require the Treasury Department to set priorities for federal payments, and to put payment of Social Security benefits and interest and principal on government bonds at the front of the line.

It, too, would bar official compensation for members of Congress until the debt limit is increased.

Senior Democrats are offering several alternatives to that House-passed payment proposal, effectively adopting the point Republicans made on budget resolutions by arguing that lawmakers would be ignoring their responsibilities by refusing to raise the debt limit. It would cut off member salaries in the event of a prolonged stalemate on efforts to increase borrowing authority.

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