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Democrats again notice the Constitution, wonder if they can make it work for them this time.

January 23, 2013

This story’s a little old, but here it is anyway:

House Republicans will force a vote Wednesday on a plan to stave off a debt-ceiling crisis for three months, but it’s the rest of their plan — to hold lawmakers’ pay hostage to their ability to pass a budget — that is testing the limits of the Constitution.

Hostage! What’s that word doing there? Could it possibly be a coincidence?

House Republicans want to try to force Senate Democrats to write a budget for the first time in four years, and want to withhold part of their $174,000 salaries if they don’t.

If the Senate doesn’t pass a budget before April 15, the bill would stick each member’s pay in escrow either until they do pass one, or until the end of Congress, when all the money would be paid out no matter what. The same rules would apply to the House and its own ability to pass a budget.


The problem is the 27th Amendment, proposed in 1789 and ratified in 1992, which says Congress cannot pass a law “varying” their pay in that same Congress. That means any pay increase or decrease can take effect only after an ensuing election.

…“If I get a paycheck in my account every month, and now I don’t get that paycheck in my account, whatever may come at the end of the year, that’s varying,” said Rep. Robert A. Brady, Pennsylvania Democrat and the ranking member on the House Administration Committee, which oversees pay issues. “That could violate the 27th Amendment.”

Hat tip Wombat for the story. And I say it’s “a little old” only because the House passed this bill earlier today.

For the record, here’s the 27th Amendment in its entirety:

No law, varying the compensation for the services of Senators and Representatives, shall take effect, until an election of Representatives shall have intervened.

So the question, constitutionally speaking, is whether the bill constitutes “varying” congressional pay. They’re going to get the money – it’s not a pay cut. But they won’t get the money on the same schedule, which is different, which is a synonym for “varied.”

On the other hand, if it is unconstitutional, it won’t be following the next congressional elections. Just wait a couple years. The courts could even just put off ruling on it until then – if anybody actually sues. The whole thing’ll be moot.

Couple other thoughts:

  • I’m not a big fan of this sort of thing. It’s kind of a stunt.
  • On the other hand, it’s a stunt that’ll force Democrats to oppose it. Which might lead to Senate Democrats having to explain why they haven’t introduced a budget resolution – much less passed one – in the past…how long? Three years?

I won’t hold my breath waiting for the MSM to get into that, but, feh. I can dream.


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