Last Friday, members of Congress a government shutdown, agreeing to a budget resolution hours before a midnight deadline. It was the culmination of months of battles over spending cuts, sparked by legislators’ failure to pass a 2011 budget before the end of last year’s session.
Rep. Randy Hultgren, R-Winfield, wants to make sure that never happens again. So he’s introduced a bill, his first, to hit legislators where it hurts: their own pocketbooks.
House Resolution 1454, which Hultgren introduced last Friday, essentially says that if the members of Congress fail to pass a budget before the first day of the fiscal year, they don’t get paid. Legislators’ salaries would be placed into an escrow account, and would only be released once the budget and appropriations bills for that year are enacted.
Furthermore, the bill would cut each senator and representative’s salary by 25 percent (by effectively denying them their fourth-quarter pay) if an appropriations bill is not passed before the first day of the new congressional session.
Hultgren said passing a budget is "a core responsibility of Congress," and lamented legislators' failure to do so last year.
“In Washington, we’re finally wrapping up work on a budget for this year,” said Hultgren. “We’re doing this because the last Congress never bothered to pass a budget. This is outrageous to me, and I know it’s outrageous to many of my constituents as well."
Reaction to his proposal, he said, has been roundly positive, both from his colleagues in Congress and his constituents back home.
Hultgren has been talking about this proposal since his Congressional campaign, which he won last year, defeating Bill Foster. The bill, called the Congressional Pay Accountability Act of 2011, currently has no co-sponsors.
Prior to the budget deal last week, Rep. Judy Biggert voted for House Resolution 1255, which would prevent members of Congress from receiving a paycheck during a shutdown. While she had no specific comments on Hultgren's proposal, she said members of Congress "shouldn’t be getting paid if our men and women in the military are missing paychecks due to a government shutdown."
Hultgren said that should his bill pass, he hopes it never comes into play. But, he said, sometimes legislators need "a further push" to get the job done.
Hultgren's bill is surfacing during a tempestuous time in Washington. With President Barack Obama addressing the nation Wednesday over the national debt, the battle over the 2012 budget is just beginning.
Federal legislators must decide whether to raise the debt ceiling—the debt is likely to hit the current maximum of $14.3 trillion in the next few months, according to reports—and whether to repeal the George W. Bush tax cuts on the wealthiest Americans. And the divide between Republicans and Democrats over spending cuts must once again be bridged.
“It’s a strong philosophical disagreement,” Hultgren said last week. “One party would like to see the size of government grow, the other would like to see it shrink. It’s hard to compromise when you’re moving in different directions.”