Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Is "No Budget No Pay" a Misstep?

I highly recommend Stan Collender's latest on GOP budget strategy for those who aren't quite sure what a "budget" (that is, a Congressional budget resolution) is and why it does or doesn't matter.

I think I disagree with him, however, on the question of whether "no budget no pay" was a mistake for the Republican leadership.

Not on the part having to do with the Senate; I agree that pushing the Senate to pass a budget resolution is basically a waste of the House's time. But on the other hand, I don't think it matters much. Sure, if the Senate actually passes a budget resolution this year then Republicans will have lost a talking point, but (1) given that the talking point was nonsense I'm not sure it matters; and (2) even if the Senate is careful to be as vague as possible -- and they might not -- it shouldn't be hard to develop new talking points out of whatever they do. I'd call that part of it a wash.

No, the real advantage of "no budget no pay" has nothing to do with the Senate. It has to do with the House, where the Republican leadership has to balance between a bunch of Members who want to pass the most extreme budget possible and a probably larger group of Members who want nothing to do with it. The leadership, which needs the crazies and crazy fellow travelers from time to time, wants to give them their budget resolution...and "no budget no pay" will help them pass it. Or at least, it certainly should help.

More generally: there are plenty of things that Congressional leaders want Members to do that Members don't particularly want to do. In normal times, budget resolutions are probably one of those; Members want it done, but there's not much of an upside in voting for it. Whether intended or not (and I have no idea whether this was thought through or not), "no budget no pay" gives House leaders an extra weapon for keeping Members in line for what should be a tough vote. In my view, it's a terrible precedent -- legislators shouldn't have a personal stake in specific votes (I called it flat-out corruption last time I wrote about it). And I have no idea how strong an incentive it will turn out to be. But either way, if it has any effect I'm pretty confident it will be over on the House side.


  1. "I agree that pushing the Senate to pass a budget resolution is basically a waste of the House's time."

    And they've used their time so productively until now.

  2. You say, "Whether intended or not (and I have no idea whether this was thought through or not), "no budget no pay" gives House leaders an extra weapon for keeping Members in line......"

    And I have wondered how much they've thought through many of their positions over the years.....

  3. On the one hand, they lose their talking point from the last 4 years.
    On the other, they made up that one, they can make up another just as easily.


  4. No Budget No Pay 'works' by getting congresspeople to sign their names at the bottom of continued, massive deficits in exchange for salaries. In a strange way, Keynesians, I think this could help the economy.

    Can't start now with the austerity cause unemployment is way too high, yes? The 'private sector is doing fine'; gov't jobs have been eviscerated. Gov't still functions, more or less, so the huge decline in gov't jobs may reflect a necessary, if painful, house cleaning that must occur every 50 years or so given that local budgets are always managed the same way (i.e. defended at all costs).

    So the private sector isn't doing fine, because it has been awfully slow to pick up the gov't slack. Suppose you were a small-time entrepreneur. What about the current economic or political milieu would give you the confidence to hire?

    In reality, this is what makes the vague Keynesian stimulus argument so unconvincing. As the hypothetical small-time entrepreneur, how hard is it to see the transparent machination of the gov't throwing $500 B at folks like you in tax breaks to get you to hire, while in the bigger picture..."trust us", says Congress and the WH!

    If the private sector is ever going to pick up the employment slack from painful/necessary government house cleaning, they need confidence. Confidence comes from clarity. Tax breaks and other stimulus are transparent in temporary motivation; they provide no clarity about the road ahead.

    Making congresspeople sign off on deficits, now and in the future, is not the solution, sure, but it may not be a bad place to start.

  5. Somewhat related topic, Paul Krugman was on Neil Conan's show yesterday, patiently explaining to nervous callers that massive deficits today are irrelevant. Sure, Krugman conceded, we'll need to make fairly harsh changes to entitlements in 2025 or 2030 (or, I suppose, if the elderly turn out to be a powerful lobby, massive tax increases, but Krugman didn't mention that). For now, though, we need massive new spending to get the economy started, and...people working.

    Let's say that the terrible lingering jobs crisis is a combination of a) once-every-few-generations house cleaning from the Fed Gov't and b) the private sector not picking up the slack. Set aside policy for a second: somehow or another, we need the private sector to pick up the slack.

    Krugman somewhat breezily dismisses 2025; sure, something dramatic will happen, spending cuts or tax increases, but in the meantime, we need to grow those green shoots, which can only happen via dramatic, and obviously temporary, and inevitably-replaced-in-a-decade-by-draconian-measures, gov't action.

    2025 is obviously a placeholder for Krugman. I suspect the small-time entrepreneurs on whom we rely to return to full employment don't see 2025 in anywhere near the same vague, academic terms Krugman does.


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