One of the most basic functions that the House, Senate and President are supposed to accomplish is passing a budget and paying the bills. Seems pretty simple... you pass a law that costs X amount of dollars, so you raise that amount of money and pay for it. For most households is it that simple, assuming they have a steady income, but in Washington it's a totally different ballgame.
They're playing with other peoples' money, and in a lot of ways they're spending the money of people who aren't even grown up or born yet. Most people know that charging something to a credit card will mean they'll have to pay it later, which means later on they'll have less money to spend. But in Washington, they can just keep charging to the national credit card, and hope that they'll be out of office by the time it comes due, or they'll just blame it on the folks on the other side of the aisle.
Is there a way to make it more of a personal, visceral problem for lawmakers? The political nonprofit organization No Labels thinks so.
A few months ago they released a list of 12 point plan called 'Make Congress Work', filled with commonsensical ideas like up or down votes on presidential appointments, a monthly forum for members of Congress to ask the President questions (like question time in the British Parliament!), and forcing members of Congress to actually work three five day work weeks a month. I don't agree with all of them, but another that has caught a bit of fire lately is 'No Budget, No Pay', where Congress wouldn't get paid if they didn't pass the budget and the 13 appropriations bills on time, by Sept. 30, each year.
I'd go one step further, and make this apply to the President as well, since the Oval Office has a huge impact on budgetary matters as well.
Frankly, I didn't think this idea had any chance of going anywhere. But I got an email from No Labels just now, telling me that they managed to get Joe Lieberman to hold a hearing in his Committee (Homeland Security and Government Operations) on March 7th. I'd love to take them up on the offer to sit in on the hearing, but that doesn't fit into my personal budget right now. Given that Congress and the president haven't passed a budget in over a thousand days, wouldn't it be nice if it were the people holding that hearing who were having a hard time getting there because of money being tight?
I doubt it'll pass... but it should. If Congress can't fulfill the most basic bullet points on their job descriptions, they should not be paid.