Some thoughts about Congress and the federal budget

By John R. Stone

Perhaps the most ridiculous thing about the recent government shutdown is that it is over an issue that should have been resolved before Oct. 1, 2018.

October 1 is the start of the federal fiscal year, and it is by that date that government should have an approved budget for the expenditure of money. What happens instead is that Congress passes “continuing resolutions” that allow federal agencies to continue operating at their current levels of expenditure since Congress hasn’t gotten around to getting its budget work done.

This happens under both political parties and happens even when one party has total control of government. Approving expenditures is one of the basic functions of government, and it hasn’t been done right in years.

Perhaps the most ridiculous thing about this most recent shutdown is requiring employees to work without compensation. If private businesses did that the Department of Labor would be all over them and hit them with big fines.

Congress needs to start doing its job in a timely manner. There has been an idea floating around the Internet that Congress shouldn’t be paid during a government shutdown. I’d agree with that but carry it a step further.  I don’t think members of Congress should be paid after Oct. 1 if there isn’t a budget for the coming fiscal year. In other words, get the job done on time.

Here are some thoughts about Congress and the budget:

• Congress members should not be paid beginning Oct. 1 if there is not a budget approved for all departments of government. I would add that congressional staff members should not be paid either. A large number of members of Congress are millionaires, so missing a paycheck is not a big deal. To their staff members paychecks are a bigger deal, and the members of Congress know and need those people. Further, there would be no back pay.

• After Oct. 1 there would be no expense reimbursement for Congressional offices either in Washington or elsewhere. That means no reimbursement for rent, phones, postage or transportation. And, again, no back pay.

• All members of Congress would be required to remain in Washington, D.C., from Oct. 1 on until a budget is passed and signed.

• One might think that this would give too much power to the president should he or she decide to veto a budget. A veto override requires a two-thirds vote in the Senate and House of Representatives. Perhaps if the president vetoes a budget passed by the House and Senate the president and his or her staff should be unpaid until the issue is resolved if it is after Oct.1. What is fair for Congress should be fair for the president.

As citizens we are required to pay our taxes on time or we pay a penalty. Businesses that file reports late or pay taxes late are subject to a penalty. So it doesn’t seem unreasonable that the Congress get its work done on time or be penalized. It clearly needs some incentive to get its job done.  What’s happening now isn’t working and hasn’t for years.

One would think that even members of Congress might agree to this. Why? Because government shutdowns–this is the 21st in the past 40 years or so–only cast negative publicity on everyone involved. Some deeply partisan folks might contend that one party or another benefits and that might be true temporarily. The overall impression, however, is that Congress can’t get its act together.

Public perception of members of Congress is low, and my guess is that it is because those members too often put politics ahead of country and people see that.

Protecting the Constitution and country come first. Period.