Op-Ed: No Budget, No Pay - No Deal, No Break

Politico | February 5, 2013

Believe it or not, Democrats and Republicans sometimes come together and do something positive in Washington, and that has happened with the No Budget, No Pay proposal that won bipartisan congressional support and White House backing as part of the debt ceiling bill. This effort to compel both the House and the Senate to pass a budget this year (something the Senate hasn’t done in four years) or else lose some pay has been a signature initiative of No Labels — a coalition of concerned citizens across the political spectrum demanding progress, not partisanship from our elected officials. As a national co-founder of No Labels, I am gratified that No Budget, No Pay has been embraced on Capitol Hill. It’s a positive first step but an even stronger No Budget, No Pay proposal should be enacted to be effective in the next Congress.

However, these steps are not enough — not by a long shot. We need a fiscal grand bargain in 2013, and we have several critical deadlines facing us over the next several months that must be addressed: automatic spending cuts (sequestration) that kick in March 1; an expiration of the funding for fiscal 2013 and possible government shutdown on March 27 (if continuing resolutions aren’t passed); budgets that must be approved by April 15; and the deferred debt ceiling confronting us again on May 19. Elected officials should use these upcoming deadlines as an incentive to move toward that ultimate grand bargain, and this deal must effectively address the huge structural deficits that pose a serious threat to our collective future.

Clearly our elected officials have very little time to achieve a lot of things. They have even less time than you’d think for a reason you may find hard to believe: Congress plans to be adjourned and outside of Washington for a full month during this critical period!

Yes, you heard right. Starting with last week, the week of Jan. 28, the House of Representatives has breaks scheduled that include Feb. 18-22, March 25-April 5 and April 29-May 3, and the Senate plans to take several weeks off as well. And this is not unusual. For example, according to the House calendar, it only plans to be in session during 2013 for 49.5 percent of weekdays. Compare that with a person who typically gets 20 days off a year (10 vacation days and 10 holidays) — they work 92.3 percent of weekdays.

It’s outrageous that at a time when our nation’s finances are in such disarray, and the clock is ticking on our potential debt bomb, our elected officials are taking “spring breaks” and a week off for every federal holiday instead of focusing full time on the task at hand. For this reason, my organization along with other groups is launching a new campaign we are calling No Deal, No Break. The premise is simple: Stay in Washington, do your job and strike a meaningful fiscal deal that can restore fiscal sanity. And until that happens, don’t recess.

We understand that our representatives want to come home to meet with constituents, attend to matters in their districts and spend time with their families. Our reply is this: Given the gravity of our fiscal situation, we consider staying in Washington during the week and working full time on these and other serious problems facing our nation to be more important than anything you could be doing back home, and we think most constituents would agree.

Now, of course, members can come home on the weekends, and we appreciate that individual members may have to return to their districts for special circumstances periodically. But the point is that Congress as a whole should remain open for business and on the job. No more recesses until a grand bargain deal is enacted into law. Show America you are serious about fixing this problem by at least showing up for work full time!

Our campaign will rally ordinary Americans around this message to Congress of No Deal, No Break. We are beginning with a simple Facebook petition that will be a growing tally of citizens demanding that their representatives remain in Washington to make the tough choices our nation needs. Using Facebook has the added benefit of engaging a younger, tech-savvy demographic — the very people who will pay the price and bear the burden of Washington’s fiscal irresponsibility. You can find our petition at www.NoDealNoBreak.net, and in the weeks ahead, we will lay out more ways to directly engage our representatives on Capitol Hill and insist that they do their jobs with the same steady commitment that we all do ours.

In his inaugural address, President Barack Obama said that “as citizens, (we) have the obligation to shape the debates of our time.” He is absolutely right, and this campaign will provide every American with the opportunity to do just that. Every one of us, whatever we do for a living, knows that when faced with pressing problems, we buckle down and work harder. And day after day, we get the job done. It’s time we demand that the politicians in Washington do the same.