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No Budget No Pay Really Means No Budget

11 Feb 2013
Posted by Stan Collender

Anyone who thinks H.R. 325 -- the No Budget No Pay law that House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) wants everyone to believe will do so much and be so important -- will, in fact, make any difference is both falling for Boehner's spin and doesn't understand how the congressional budget process really works.

According to the Congressional Budget Act, a "budget" is not really a budget until the House and Senate agree on a congressional budget resolution conference report, that is, each house has to adopt its own budget and then compromise with the other on a joint agreement. The House- or Senate-passed budget resolution means nothing and neither that house nor Congress as a whole is obligated to follow it.

But the text of H.R. 325 makes it clear that the budget included in No Budget No Pay is not a budget resolution conference report:

If by April 15, 2013, a House of Congress has not agreed to a concurrent resolution on the budget for fiscal year 2014 ...the payroll administrator of that House of Congress shall deposit in an escrow account all payments otherwise required to be made during such period for the compensation of Members of Congress who serve in that House of Congress, and shall release such payments to such Members only upon the expiration of such period.

In other words, No Budget No Pay doesn't require the House and Senate to compromise on a budget, just that they agree on their own budget plan.

This is particularly important because of the misperception that No Budget No Pay means that reconciliation -- the procedure that prevents a filibuster in the Senate when changes in spending and revenues are ordered in a budget resolution -- can happen if just the Senate passes its own budget resolution. That's completely untrue: Reconciliation only happens pursuant to instructions in a budget resolution conference report. In other words, the one thing that might actually have had an impact on the budget debate -- a budget resolution conference agreement -- is precisely what No Budget No Pay doesn't require.

No Budget No Pay means nothing unless the two houses voluntarily compromise their differences, and that's what neither has been willing to do.

Maybe. But the issue hasn't


But the issue hasn't been that the two chambers have been unable to reconcile different versions in conference committee. The problem has been that the Senate has avoided being put on record with any budget, not just the House passed version. So even under your view of how No Budget No Pay might play out, getting the Senate to introduce and then mark up and then vote on a specific bill is a big step forward. And it will be a big albatross around the neck of some in-cycle D senators.

A big step forward toward

A big step forward toward what? If Senate leaders, who do this stuff for a living, are convinced that any budget they pass will have no chance of passage in the House, then what's the point of the Senate passing a budget? How does passing a budget represent a good thing to do, when it's probably not going to end up being "the budget"?

The House has passed some budgets, it's true, full of ideas meant to play well in GOP primary races, however dangerous they might be if released into the wild. Senate Democrats think anything they pass will be put to some political use by Republicans, but will never come close to becoming law, while House Republicans run around passing budget after budget, knowing they will never come close to becoming law.

Assuming, since lawmakers do this for a living, that they know more than either of us about the odds in this situation, how is the Senate passing a budget a "step forward"?


This is what the joint budget reconciliation committee is for. Stick Paul Ryan and Patty Murray in a room and make them hash it out. Or not, and let it 'die in conference'. Either way, passing something at least suggests that the Senate is credibly trying to do its job. I suspect the problem isn't the House budget, it is that the President won't sign off on any budget that would win the support of enough Senate Republicans to get passed, leave alone House Republicans, and Harry Reid won't put forth a budget the President doesn't bless.

@Anon (2/11 3:10pm ): I've

@Anon (2/11 3:10pm ): I've done this for a living for many years, too.

There can be value in a chamber passing a budget that isn't then reconciled with the other body.

First, as I noted, it can force the issue on tough votes that will then show up in countless elections later.

Second, in the past, budget's have been deemed to be reconciled for at least that chamber's point of orders and budget rules. In effect, they are in effect, at least until a compromised version is reached. This doesn't always happen, but it can. It's happened more often in the House than the Senate.

Finally, all the cards will be laid bare. We'll know what the Senate Dem leadership thinks in the right revenue and expense levels. We'll know what level of deficit they are willing to defend and we'll finally have something to match up against the Ryan and other House plans. It's easy to poke holes and demonize when there is nothing to contrast in return, which is of course why they've avoided introducing or passing anything.

Not exactly

Budget resolutions don't get signed by the president; they are internal working documents of Congress and not laws so they don't have to be approved and can't be vetoed by the president.

Also...there's no requirement that the House and Senate go to conference (it's not called a reconciliation committee) once they pass their own budget resolutions. And, as we saw with the hardly super committee, just because a joint committee meets doesn't mean it agrees to anything.

They are called Conference

They are called Conference Committees when the House and Senate meet to hash out - or reconcile - different versions of a bill.

It's true they don't get signed by the President or have the force of law. Really, they are more like the rules of the House and Senate in that they create automatic points of order, but those can be appealed to the Chair or waived anyway.

I think the point Anon at 6:52pm was making isn't that the President would veto the bill, but rather he uses his influence with Reid to keep the bill off the floor until he supports it.

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