Republican Sens. Mitt Romney and Rand Paul might not see eye-to-eye on every issue, but the two former presidential candidates agree that it’s a bad idea to withhold lawmaker pay because of government shutdowns.
The senators from Utah and Kentucky spoke up against the latest “no budget, no pay” proposal — this one from Republican Sen. Rick Scott of Florida — as well as a similar offering from Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona during a meeting of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on Wednesday.
Romney noted that wealthy members such as Scott and himself wouldn’t see the effects of delayed paychecks, leading Sinema to quip, “We’re all just moving into your house.”
“You’re welcome,” Romney said. “Which one?”
But the discussion got more serious from there.
“I’m very concerned about the precedent that we set of not paying members of Congress for votes they might take,” Romney said.“I just think we have to ask ourselves if we want to start using pay to put pressure on people to vote a certain way, and have people make their decisions in part on getting more money for themselves. Getting their pay so they can stay in their apartment or buy their food.”
Romney had an estimated net worth of up to $270 million, the Deseret News reported, based on federal financial disclosure forms filed in 2018 for his Senate race.
“I think this creates a two-tiered system where the wealthy members won’t be affected by this at all. You know, one member of Congress from my state donates his whole salary and doesn’t need his salary at all, and there are other middle-class members who this will affect,” Paul said. “So, I think in the end you’ll get a two-tiered system where the wealthy members will vote however they want to and you’ll put extra pressure on those who are middle class.”
Both Paul and Romney also expressed concern about withholding the pay of all members of Congress when only a handful of members of leadership and committee chairmen negotiate final agreements on spending bills.
Members of the Homeland Security panel eventually voted to add the “no budget, no pay” language to a separate bill that would implement automatic continuing resolutions and restrict travel by members of Congress, congressional staff and officials of the executive branch.
Adoption of the Scott amendment came despite the objection of Republican Chairman Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, who argued that the contentious amendment could imperil the underlying bill.
“I really do think ‘no budget, no pay’ is something very difficult for members to vote against. I mean, self-flagellation is publicly popular, I get that,” Johnson said, adding that he was more concerned with moving the underlying anti-shutdown bill from Sens. James Lankford of Oklahoma and Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire.
“I think it’s common sense: If we can’t do our jobs and get a budget done, then we shouldn’t get paid; it’ll go into escrow, just sort of like what happened to the Coast Guard in this last shutdown,” Scott said. “I just believe it’s what happens in business. If you don’t do your job in business, you don’t get paid. And the same thing should happen here.”
Later in the debate, Scott said he understands the concerns raised by Paul and Romney about the differences in the financial situations of different members, but the Florida Republican came to a different conclusion.
“The private sector works just like this,” Scott said. “I ran companies. If I did the wrong thing, people didn’t get paid … and everybody got work.”
Sen. Mike Braun, the Indiana Republican who has been Scott’s partner on the legislation in the 116th Congress, expressed a similar sentiment in a statement.
“In the real world nobody gets rewarded for not doing their jobs, and today’s victory for ‘no budget, no pay’ is a big step toward pulling Washington out of la-la land and getting Congress working for the American people again,” Braun said.
As amended, the government shutdown prevention bill from Lankford and Hassan advanced through committee, 10-2, though the automatic CR language should send it next to the Appropriations Committee rather than to the floor.
David Jordan contributed to this report.