As the hours ticked by Friday evening, Americans waited with a growing tension as a potential government shutdown approached.
Military families were scrambling, trying to figure out the exact impacts of having to go without pay for an undetermined amount of time.
The same held true for the hundreds of thousands of federal employees who would have to take furloughs, otherwise known as unpaid days off.
Meanwhile, those employees who would remain were determining how to help provide those essential services with a vastly reduced workforce.
The negotiations in the weeks, days, and even minutes before the midnight deadline neared leave plenty of room for legitimate debate in terms of how each side conducted itself, how each side communicated, and the manner in which the negotiations progressed.
Similarly, the compromise deal reached in the final moments Friday night also leave room for legitimate debate—some say the cuts were too much and some say they were too little. There should be a discussion on the nuts and bolts of our federal finances, but we want to reserve this space to the bigger picture.
That bigger picture is the fact that this near-shutdown only occurred because the previous congress failed to pass a budget for the current fiscal year. And because of that failure, the money nearly ran out and the political game of chicken concluded Friday.
So, regardless of where you fall in the political spectrum, regardless of who you feel conducted themselves well or poorly in those final moments, and regardless of your views of the compromise deal, we should all be able to agree that this near-shutdown should never have occurred.
Our representative in Congress, Randy Hultgren (R-14), introduced on April 8, H.R. 1454, the Congressional Pay Accountability Act. In essence, the bill would require that the salaries of members of Congress be held in escrow if they fail to pass a budget and all regular appropriations bills prior to the relavent fiscal year. Members of congress would not receive their pay until those bills are passed.
In a statement released Wednesday, Hultgren explained the rationale behind the bill.
“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.”
The lack of a a budget and an ensuing near-government shutdown should be outrageous to everyone, regardless of party or political affiliation. Similarly, this bill should not be a partisan issue, and we urge everyone from both sides of the aisle to support it.
“This simple legislation will require Congress to pass a budget and all appropriations bills— ensuring that the government is fully funded for a given fiscal year—by the beginning of that fiscal year,” Hultgren said. “If we don’t, we simply won’t get paid. Outside of Washington, getting paid only when you do your job would sound like common sense; unfortunately, that’s not the case here.”
There are many tough decisions that need to be made in the coming months and years, and there will be legitimate, difficult debates that go along with them. The budget and fiscal issues should be among those things; but while what is inside the budget should be debated, the fact that a budget should exist should not.
If Congress—controlled by either party—fails to do its job, its members should not receive a paycheck. That seems simple enough to us, and hopefully, regardless of your political persuasion, you agree.