POLITICS

House passes ‘no budget, no pay’ as Senate Dems have made $46M since last budget

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Politics,Beltway Confidential,Joel Gehrke,Politics Digest

House lawmakers passed the  ‘no budget, no pay’ proposal that requires Congress to pass a budget, which Senate Democrats have refused to do since 2009. The vote comes as Senate Democrats received about $46 million from taxpayers in salary and benefits.

“With the passage of this bill today, it’s pretty clear that we’re sending a message to the Democrat-controlled Senate that it’s time to do your job,” House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said in a press conference after the bill — which suspends the debt ceiling for three months but requires Congress to pass a budget by the end of that time — received 285 votes in the House.

“For four years, the Senate Democrats have refused to pass a budget, and the House plan may well force them to finally to do their job,” Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, added in a statement to The Washington Examiner. ” However, suspending the debt ceiling without significant cuts or spending reforms just doesn’t make sense, and I intend to vote no.”

The bill is a victory for Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., the ranking Republican on the Budget Committee who proposed plan linking the debt ceiling to the budget in a conversation with The Examiner’s Byron York.

“I think it should be a firm principle that we should not raise the debt ceiling until we have a plan on how the new borrowed money will be spent,” Sessions told Byron in the first week of January. “If the government wants to borrow money so it can spend more, then the government ought to tell the Congress and the American people how they will spend it.”

So, approximately how much money are we talking about? Rank-and-file members of the Senate earn $174,000 a year. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.,  Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and the Senate pro tempore (the most senior member of the majority party) make $194,000 annually, for a total of $17.4 million paid out in salary each year to the U.S. Senate and roughly $65 million over the 45 months since April 2009. They’ve received another $19.8 million in benefits during that time, raising total compensation above $84 million.

The 111th Senate received $38 million of that money after passing the April 2009 budget. Senate Democrats controlled 58 seats for much of that Congress (there was some fluctuation due to a special election and Ted Kennedy’s health), meaning they received about $22 million of that money. The Senate Republicans received the other $16 million. The 112th Senate was compensated a bit less than $46 million, with senators in the Democratic caucus pulling down about $24 million of that, compared to $22 million for the Republicans.

All told, the Senate Democrats received a total of $46 million in compensation since they last passed a budget, while the smaller Republican conference received the other $38 million. If you accept that about 40 cents of every dollar borrowed since 2009 has been borrowed (the exact figure has varied, as Politifact noted), then the compensation for the Senate has added about $35 million to the debt since the last budget passed. About $19 million of that debt was added to pay the Senate Democrats who refused to pass the budget.

The extra compensation bump, above the paid salary, reflects the benefits package that is “generous by the standards of many workers,” as the AARP noted.  For instance, taxpayers contribute an amount equal to about 18 percent of the senators’ salary to the Federal Employee Retirement System, according to Government Executive, which thus costs about $260,000 a month and about $11.8 million since Reid last allowed a budget to go through the chamber.

Taxpayers also contribute up to 5 percent of the lawmakers’ salaries ($8,700) to a defined benefit pension, the Thrift Savings Plan. Assuming that every member maxes out his or her TSP, that’s another $72,500 a month paid by taxpayers, or about $3.3 million since the last budget passed.

Then there are the health benefits, which are a little trickier to calculate because senators get to choose from about 200 plans with varying monthly premiums; taxpayers pay between 72 percent and 75 percent of the premiums. The Annenberg Public Policy Center indicates $900 as a reasonably representative figure for how much is paid to cover each legislator’s monthly premiums. That’s $90,000 per month for the whole Senate, totaling about $4 million since April 2009.

“It’s been four years since Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has brought a budget to the floor of the United States Senate,” Indiana Republican Marlin Stutzman, who served on the Budget Committee in the last Congress, said on the House floor.  “You could build the Pentagon three times in that timeframe.  It’s time to pass a budget out of the United States Senate and Senator Reid should not be paid until it’s done.”

President Obama has given his imprimatur to the ‘no budget, no pay’ proposal. Reid told reporters he is “very glad that … they’re going to send us a clean debt ceiling bill.” So, the bill seems likely to pass into law.

Senate Budget Committee chair Patty Murray, D-Wash., tried to take the initiative by promising to pass a budget this year in a statement released before the ‘no budget, no pay’ vote took place.

“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,” Murray said.

Republicans welcomed the announcement, but aren’t getting their hopes up just yet. “We’ve heard talk like this before,” one Senate aide told The Examiner. “Remember last year, then-Chairman Conrad promised a budget mark-up on Fox News Sunday, but within a week he had abruptly pulled the plug. Until they actually pass a budget, they have not passed a budget.”

 

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