Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

'No Budget, No Pay' is no-brainer

January 23, 2013 -- Updated 2013 GMT (0413 HKT)
John Avlon says Congress members' pay should be put in escrow until they pass a budget.
John Avlon says Congress members' pay should be put in escrow until they pass a budget.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • John Avlon: Most people who fail to do their jobs don't get paid
  • Avlon: Congress hasn't passed a budget in nearly four years
  • Congress has passed a budget on time only four times in 30 years, he writes
  • Avlon: House GOP backs bill that would dock lawmakers' pay till budget is passed

Editor's note: John Avlon is a CNN contributor and senior political columnist for Newsweek and The Daily Beast. He is co-editor of the book "Deadline Artists: America's Greatest Newspaper Columns." He is a regular contributor to "Erin Burnett OutFront" and is a member of the OutFront Political Strike Team. For more political analysis, tune in to "Erin Burnett OutFront" at 7 ET weeknights.

(CNN) -- If you don't get the job done at work, you won't get paid.

But Congress plays by its own rules. Specifically, Congress hasn't passed a budget in almost four years. This is basic -- and required by law. Congress seems to think it's bigger than the law, however, which might help explain one recent poll that found it less popular than root canals, cockroaches and Donald Trump.

That's why an act passed in the House on Wednesday deserves widespread support, as well as Senate passage. It's called "No Budget, No Pay," and it means what it says.

John P. Avlon
John P. Avlon

If members of Congress can't pass a budget on time, they wouldn't get paid until they did. Sadly, this low bar seems high. In fact, according to the Washington Post, Congress has passed spending bills on time only four times in the past 30 years.

This is your money. And our elected representatives seem to have forgotten that presenting a stable plan on how to spend the money is a basic part of their job description. Instead, Washington has gotten used to living from continuing resolution to continuing resolution. This ain't the way it's supposed to be. In fact, it is a violation of the 1974 Budget Control Act (PDF).

But somehow, breaking the laws they set for themselves doesn't seem to be an urgent concern to these Congresscrats, despite the fact that the U.S. government spent $3.7 trillion last year (PDF).

The absence of a budget doesn't just violate common sense; there are real dollars and cents costs. Without a budget, it becomes difficult for government to make long-term spending decisions that affect us all.

Where's our budget?
Fiscal cliff metaphor madness

Now, House Republicans have seized on this idea as part of their bid to extend the debt ceiling deadline until mid-May. To be clear, this is just kicking the can, but it's still a responsible step in the right direction.

"No Budget, No Pay" was originally proposed by No Labels, a group of Democrats, Republicans and independents dedicated to the politics of problem-solving. I helped found the citizens' group in 2010 with Mark McKinnon, Nancy Jacobson, Bill Galston, Lisa Borders, Kiki McLean, David Walker and many others. The proposal was the cornerstone of the "Make Congress Work" plan released last year.

The idea was quickly adopted by Republican Dean Heller in the Senate and Democrat Jim Cooper in the House. But it met stiff resistance from other members of Congress who didn't like the idea of personal accountability for institutional dysfunction.

Now, suddenly, after the election results of 2012, there is renewed interest in the idea, largely because it resonates with constituents as such a common sense proposal. "No Budget, No Pay" is a no-brainer.

The proposal is getting support from more than the GOP House leadership. A large number of centrist "Blue Dog Democrats" have announced their intention to vote for the measure, and the White House released a statement saying it would not try to oppose the measure because it would at least provide a "short term solution to the debt limit."

According to the bill, if lawmakers didn't pass a budget by April 15, their pay would be docked and put in an escrow account until they found a way to work together on this front. Not incidentally, that's also the reason "No Budget, No Pay" does not violate the 27th Amendment, which forbids salary increases or reductions during a current Congress: Their salary is not being reduced, it is being withheld until they actually do their job.

Time and time again in this divided, dysfunctional Congress, we have seen partisan gridlock fall away only when members' self-interest is at stake. That's why we see the flurry of activity at the end of the year, when members of Congress want to get home for the holidays. Docking their pay would get their attention and focus their mind.

Let me be clear: A long-term solution to the debt ceiling debacles still needs to be found. Congress is now the greatest single impediment to American economic recovery, in large part because a bloc of 50 or so votes on the far right seems enamored with playing chicken with our country's full faith and credit.

The last time we went through this idiotic ideological exercise, America got its AAA credit rating downgraded. Standard and Poors stated the reason clearly: "The effectiveness, stability, and predictability of American policymaking and political institutions have weakened at a time of ongoing fiscal and economic challenges."

But the House GOP vote to at least extend the debt-ceiling deadline and impose a common sense measure like "No Budget, No Pay" is sign of sanity at the start of the second Obama term. It will not solve all our problems, but at least by imposing a degree of personal accountability on members of Congress, it might encourage constructive cooperation instead of last-minute scrambles and hyperpartisan brinksmanship.

If patriotic conscience can't compel Congress to work together, maybe requiring them to have some personal skin in the game will inspire them to do their job.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of John Avlon.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
October 1, 2014 -- Updated 1947 GMT (0347 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says Jimmy Carter's message about the need to restore trust in public officials is a vital one, decades after the now 90-year-old he first voiced it
October 1, 2014 -- Updated 2156 GMT (0556 HKT)
Ford Vox says mistakes and missed opportunities along the line to a diagnosis of Ebola in a Liberian man have put Dallas residents at risk of fatal infection
October 1, 2014 -- Updated 2221 GMT (0621 HKT)
Pepper Schwartz says California is trying, but its law requiring step-by-step consent is just not the way hot and heavy sex proceeds on college campuses
October 2, 2014 -- Updated 0217 GMT (1017 HKT)
Mike Downey says long-suffering fans, waiting for good playoff news since 1985, finally get something to cheer about
October 1, 2014 -- Updated 2139 GMT (0539 HKT)
Steve Israel saysJohn Boehner's Congress and the tea party will be remembered for shutting down government one year ago
October 2, 2014 -- Updated 1215 GMT (2015 HKT)
Yep. You read the headline right, says Peter Bergen, writing on the new government that stresses national unity
October 1, 2014 -- Updated 2312 GMT (0712 HKT)
Hong Kong's pro-democracy demonstrators are but the latest freedom group to be abandoned by the Obama administration, says Mike Gonzalez
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1653 GMT (0053 HKT)
Jeff Yang calls Ello a wakeup call to Facebook and Twitter, and a sign of hope for fast-rising upstarts Pinterest and Snapchat.
October 1, 2014 -- Updated 1423 GMT (2223 HKT)
Paul Waldman says the Secret Service should examine its procedures to make sure there are no threats to the White House--but without losing the openness so valuable to democracy
October 1, 2014 -- Updated 1455 GMT (2255 HKT)
Jesse Williams says the videotape and 911 call that resulted in police gunning down John Crawford at a Walmart reveals the fatal injustice of racial assumptions
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 2303 GMT (0703 HKT)
Mel Robbins says officials should drop the P.C. pose: The beheading in Oklahoma was not workplace violence. Plenty of evidence shows Alton Nolen was an admirer of ISIS.
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1911 GMT (0311 HKT)
The Occupy Central movement has already achieved much by bringing greater attention to Hong Kong's struggle for democracy, William Piekos says..
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1911 GMT (0311 HKT)
The Occupy Central movement has already achieved much by bringing greater attention to Hong Kong's struggle for democracy, writes William Piekos.
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1413 GMT (2213 HKT)
As Prime Minister Narendra Modi visits America, Madeleine Albright says a world roiled by conflict needs these two great democracies to commit to moving their partnership forward
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1404 GMT (2204 HKT)
John Sutter: Lake Providence, Louisiana, is the parish seat of the "most unequal place in America." And until somewhat recently, the poor side of town was invisible on Google Street View.
September 29, 2014 -- Updated 1311 GMT (2111 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says in the run up to the 2016 election the party faces divisions on its approach to the U.S.'s place in the world
September 29, 2014 -- Updated 1419 GMT (2219 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says Common Core supporters can't devise a new set of standards and then fail to effectively sell it.
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1329 GMT (2129 HKT)
Earlier this month, Kenyans commemorated the heinous attack on the Westgate Mall in Nairobi.
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1859 GMT (0259 HKT)
David Wheeler says Colorado students are right to protest curriculum changes that downplays civil disobedience.
September 27, 2014 -- Updated 0158 GMT (0958 HKT)
Sally Kohn says when people click on hacked celebrity photos or ISIS videos, they are encouraging the bad guys.
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 1155 GMT (1955 HKT)
Loren Bunche says she walked by a homeless man every day and felt bad about it -- until one day she paused to get to know him
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1332 GMT (2132 HKT)
ISIS grabs headlines on social media, but hateful speech is no match for moderate voices, says Nadia Oweidat.
September 29, 2014 -- Updated 1233 GMT (2033 HKT)
A new report counts jihadists fighting globally. The verdict? The threat isn't that big, says Peter Bergen.
September 23, 2014 -- Updated 2137 GMT (0537 HKT)
Ebola could become the biggest humanitarian disaster in a generation, writes former British Prime Minister Tony Blair
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 1658 GMT (0058 HKT)
ISIS has shocked the world. But will releasing videos of executions backfire? Four experts give their take.
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 1439 GMT (2239 HKT)
Eric Holder kicked off his stormy tenure as attorney general with a challenge to the public that set tone for six turbulent years as top law-enforcement officer.
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 1309 GMT (2109 HKT)
LZ Granderson says Obama was elected as a war-ending change agent, not a leader who would leave behind for his successor new engagement in Iraq and Syria. Is he as disappointed as the rest of us?
September 24, 2014 -- Updated 0910 GMT (1710 HKT)
Gayle Lemmon says the question now is how to translate all the high-profile feminizing into real gains for women
ADVERTISEMENT