Knoxville News Sentinel: Column by Greg Johnson: 'No Budget, No Pay' could spur action

Posted on September 28, 2012

On April 29, 2009, the U.S. Senate passed a budget. America then owed public creditors $6.85 trillion. The federal government owed itself — after raiding the Social Security trust fund, etc. — $4.30 trillion, bringing total indebtedness to $11.15 trillion.

On Tuesday, federal debt held by the public was $11.25 trillion, more than the total indebtedness 1,248 days ago. Intragovernment debt totaled $4.76 trillion, for a total U.S. indebtedness of $16.02 trillion. Over those 1,248 days, federal debt grew $4.87 trillion, an increase of 43.6 percent. Our gross domestic product at the second quarter of 2012 was $15.61 trillion. Our debt now exceeds GDP.

President Barack Obama has been president all 1,248 of those days. U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., has been Senate majority leader all 1,248 of those days. U.S. a.inline_topic:hover { background-color: #EAEAEA; } Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., watched from his seat on the Senate Appropriations Committee as the Senate failed to pass another budget in those 1,248 days. Now, Alexander is "fed up" with the Senate's serial irresponsibility.

"I have tried every other means I know of to persuade senators to do their work on time, and it hasn't worked," Alexander said. "How can you balance a budget if you don't have a budget?"

Alexander this week signed on to co-sponsor the "No Budget, No Pay" Act in the Senate, joining 13 other senators to promote a bill that, if Congress hasn't passed a budget by Oct. 1 — as required by law — would withhold pay from our representatives and senators.

Alexander joins U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., who added his name to the bill in March. The House version of "No Budget, No Pay" is sponsored by U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Nashville, and co-sponsored by U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais, R-South Pittsburg, along with 77 others.

"The Senate isn't doing its most basic job, and that's managing the people's money," Alexander said in a Monday media call. "If we get to Oct. 1 with no budget, members (of the House and Senate) won't get paid."

Alexander gave a Tennessee example. "You wouldn't get paid at the Grand Ole Opry if you showed up late and refused to sing," Alexander said. "The same should apply to members of Congress who don't do their jobs."

Alexander acknowledged both parties have contributed to the fiscal state of the state, but laid the fiscal folly of these 1,248 days firmly at the feet of Reid and Senate Democrats.

"This is mostly a one-sided problem," Alexander said. "The Republican House passed a budget on time in each of the last two years. The Democratic Senate has not approved a budget for three years."

"No Budget, No Pay" is a long shot. I asked Alexander what it would take to get it passed.

"A popular uprising," Alexander replied. "If Republicans get a majority, we can attach it as an amendment and pass it. The country's attention is focused on the fiscal crisis. With the spotlight on, a large, bipartisan group of senators could bring it to the floor."

Obviously, 1,248 days is unconscionably too long to go budget-less. Obviously, a popular uprising is required.