In June 2011, I read that California legislators would forfeit pay for any day after the beginning of their fiscal year (July 1 start) for which a balanced budget had not been approved. The legislators passed a budget that the State Controller ruled was not balanced and therefore did not meet the requirements. After much grousing, the legislators soon passed a budget that the Controller agreed was balanced and the governor signed. By golly, life went on.
Congress is likely to reach the beginning of the next fiscal year (October 1) without passing any budget. This is not a new occurrence; it has been going on for years. It has little to do with split government where Republicans and Democrats share control of the House, Senate and the Presidency. Prior to the 2010 elections the Democrats controlled the House, Senate and Presidency, knew they were about to lose control of the House, and still were unable to pass a budget. This has everything to do with Congress not doing the job they were hired to do.
As an aside, the federal budget is split into a bunch of separate provisions, so in order to have a complete budget, all of the spending resolutions much be passed.
The California model could work well in encouraging Congress to do their work and develop timely national budgets. Starting with October 1, no member of Congress should be paid salary or expenses for any day in which all the components of the US government budgets have not been passed and signed by the President. Unlike California, a balanced budget would not be required, since the Federal government is allowed (and should be allowed) to run a deficit.
I can’t imagine that Congress would pass such a law by themselves; and even if they did, they would change the law as soon as it came into effect. Therefore, reluctant as I am to tinker with the constitution, the only way to implement such a proposition is through a constitutional amendment.
Could we get two-thirds of the state legislatures to call for a constitutional convention to consider this amendment? Not likely; it hasn’t happened yet. Consequently, we’ll need Congress to propose the amendment for states’ approval. It would require two-thirds of each house of Congress to propose the amendment to the states. Why would the legislators vote to cut off their own salaries? With Congressional job approval reported to be down to 12%, constituents might be able to pressure them to pass the legislation.
Maybe we should require our 2012 candidates to pledge to work for such a constitutional amendment. What the heck, it can’t be any worse than what we’ve got now.