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If the government shuts down and Congress is still getting paid, it will be the House Republicans' fault

March 30, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

A reader writes in with a good question. On March 1 Republicans and Democrats in the Senate pulled together to pass a bill that would amend current law so that members of Congress do not receive pay during government shutdowns; why isn’t the House acting on this bill so that if a government shutdown does occur Congress will take a pay cut like other federal employees?

The answer, of course, is that it has gotten tied up in a ploy to score political points. According to reports (e.g. TPM), House Republicans are rolling the Senate-passed bill into the so-called “Prevention of a Government Shutdown Act” that they will vote on Friday. Besides blocking pay to Congress during a shutdown, the bill would deem the House’s continuing resolution (CR), policy riders and all, the law of the land if the Senate does not pass a CR by April 6. It would do this despite the fact that the Senate has already voted on the House’s CR and rejected it. As the National Journal says, the bill is “purely symbolic” — it’s a complete abdication of the legislative process that would never be entertained by the Senate or the President, both on policy and procedural grounds. The House cannot make laws unilaterally — they have to work with the Senate and the President.

House Republicans are pursuing this symbolic bill at the expense of actual legislating, but it may end up helping them politically. When the government shuts downs because a deal on the CR was not struck and pundits explode in faux populist rage over the fact that Congress is still getting paid while park workers are being laid off, House Republicans will say, “We passed a bill to take away Congress’ pay, but the Senate Democrats wouldn’t vote on it.” Of course, Senate Democrats will try to explain that the Republicans are misstating the facts and that the Senate did in fact pass a bill to block congressional pay during shutdowns. The public then, unsure of who to believe, will pout the blame on Congress in general. But the fact is, the House Republican leadership could call up the Senate’s stand-alone bill to block pay to Congress during a shutdown at any time and it would pass without any resistance. Instead they’re tacking it onto a divisive, possibly unconstitutional bill that stands no chance of being enacted. If the government shuts down and Congress is still getting paid, it will be the House Republicans fault, not Congress’.

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