Republican Raises Constitutional Question As Senate Introduces Its Own ‘No Budget, No Pay’ Bill

By Matt Cover | January 24, 2013 | 6:29 AM EST

House Republicans discuss their 'No Budget, No Pay' bill with reporters on Capitol Hill on Jan. 22, 2013. (AP Photo)

( group of senators, one of them a Democrat, has introduced the Senate version of the “No Budget, No Pay” bill that would withhold congressional salaries unless Congress passes a budget and 12 appropriations bills by the end of the fiscal year. But some lawmakers are questioning its constitutionality.

Led by Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), the effort mirrors the one mounted by House Republicans in lieu of a politically damaging debt ceiling fight.

The House bill— which passed Wednesday on a 285-144 vote -- would block congressional salaries to force Senate Democrats to pass a budget. But one of the 33 Republicans who voted against the bill says it’s unconstitutional:

"The American people rightfully expect Congress to do its job, and that includes passing a budget," Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) said in a statement. "However, while I support the concept of the 'No Budget, No Pay' bill, the 27th Amendment to our Constitution specifically says 'No law, varying the compensation for services of Senators and Representatives shall take effect until an election of the Representatives shall have intervened.”

“The language is clear and unambiguous,” Rep. King said. “I support the spirit of the bill, but it did not meet constitutional standards.”

Over in the Senate, Heller noted that it has been nearly four years since Congress last passed a budget: “1,365 days since we’ve had a budget here in Washington, D.C.,” Heller said at a press conference Wednesday. “1,365 days since Congress has passed a budget – 1,365 days of crisis.”

The Senate version differs from the House bill in that it does not contain a three-month debt ceiling extension, and it requires that both a budget and the 12 spending bills be passed on time each year.

Under the Senate version, if Congress does not pass both a budget and the spending bills by the beginning of that fiscal year, then pay is suspended until those bills are passed.

Manchin, the bill’s lone Democratic co-sponsor, said that members of Congress should have to suffer some kind of penalty for failing to do the basic functions of their jobs.

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“If we can’t get our job done, then there has to be some type of penalty or consequences, and that seems to be the most logical one,” he said. “It’s easy for the American public to understand, if they don’t do their job then they lose it and if not they wouldn’t get paid – well we should be the same.”

The no budget, no pay campaign is already having an impact in Washington after being unveiled by House Republicans last week. Senator Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) – the third-ranking Senate Democrat, told NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday that the Senate would in fact pass a budget this year.

Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray (D-Wash.) said that her committee would pass a budget through the Senate for the first time in nearly four years, saying in a statement that the Senate would return to “regular order.”

“[T]he Senate will once again return to regular order and move a budget resolution through the Budget Committee and to the Senate floor,” she said.

“Senate Democrats plan to move on a budget resolution regardless of whether the House rolls this issue into their short-term bill to increase the debt limit. I am ready to get to work with my colleagues on the Budget Committee and I look forward to fighting for middle class budget values and priorities in a conference with Chairman Ryan and the House.”