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Longtime Rep. Dan Lungren lost re-election last year in part because of redistricting that favored Democrats. But the California Republican said it didn’t help that his Democratic challenger, current Rep. Ami Bera, campaigned on the promise to support a bill known as “no budget, no pay” while a deluge of TV ads charged Lungren with blocking the very same measure.
“They said I was the one who singularly stopped that from going forward,” said Lungren, who was chairman of the House Administration Committee, the panel of jurisdiction.
But Lungren was unapologetic. “If you were to pass [it], one of these young members with young families who depend on their salaries, they’d get hurt. . . . Look at the 60 to 80 members who live in their offices in this place. That’s horrendous,” Lungren said. “I’ve seen what members go through, and they’re afraid to say it.”
On Wednesday, with Bera voting yes, the House passed legislation to suspend the debt limit through May 18. It would also suspend lawmakers’ salaries if they don’t pass an annual budget by April 15, the main thrust of the No Budget, No Pay Act Lungren fought in the 112th Congress.
Now with the Senate and White House amenable to the measure, the consequences Lungren feared for his former colleagues are becoming real. And although this particular legislation is relegated to the budget, the threat of Congress voting to withhold pay for lack of action on any piece of legislation — whether it be defense authorization, appropriations bills or anything else someone deems worthy — is all the more real, too. Pandora’s box is open.
The “no budget, no pay” concept originated with Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Tenn., who quickly picked up a grass-roots following and a Senate partner in Dean Heller, R-Nev. Cooper’s bill garnered 79 co-sponsors along a political spectrum of tea party Republicans and Blue Dog Democrats, but leadership didn’t pay much attention until last week at the House Republican retreat in Williamsburg, Va.
It was there that a working group led by Budget Chairman Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., suggested that any debt limit bill include Cooper’s “no budget, no pay” language.
“It’s no secret that Paul Ryan and I are good friends,” Cooper told CQ Roll Call, “and he remembered me having mentioned this to him as a good reform that both parties should be able to get behind.
“[Republicans] were looking for a way to save face as they supported a debt ceiling extension, and they had to have a very powerful sweetener,” Cooper continued. “This is a bill that is so popular that its title sells itself.”