WASHINGTON -- A bill to dock pay for members of Congress who miss votes is the latest token effort to cut congressional salaries.
"Our primary duty as members of Congress is to advocate on behalf of our constituency, which means when votes are called, you're supposed to show up and cast votes," Rep. Charles Boustany (R-La.), the bill's author, said at a press conference Friday. "Some of our colleagues seem to take this duty very lightly, or for granted, and refuse to accept that responsibility."
Rank-and-file members of Congress earn annual salaries of $174,000, and the current session has seen a plethora of bills that would reduce that amount, either directly or by tying it to economic indicators or whether Congress has passed a budget.
Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.), sponsor of a bill that would reduce pay for every day after Oct. 1 for which Congress hasn't passed a budget, said the paycut threat would motivate members even though many of them are already millionaires.
"It's a huge incentive: Most folks need the paycheck here," Cooper said. "There are a few rich members, and you tend to notice those more. But the average member needs a paycheck. And guess what: The folks who are rich? They love money more than anybody else."
The "No Budget, No Pay" measure got farther than most -- lawmakers gave it an official hearing in March. But even its sponsors acknowledge it hasn't got a chance of becoming law.
Boustany is running against fellow Louisiana Republican Rep. Jeff Landry for a redrawn congressional district. Landry, who has missed 7 percent of votes since the beginning of 2011, believes the No Show, No Pay Act is an effort to tweak him. "He's trying to slap me around," Landry told Politico.
Boustany didn't mention Landry during a press conference outside the capitol building on Friday, but talked broadly about members not doing their jobs. Boustany's bill aims to shame his congressional colleagues by posting their missed vote totals online, something GovTrack.us already does. According to that website, the median rate for members missing votes is 2.4 percent. Boustany has missed 3 percent -- not as many as some of his unnamed colleagues, however.
"They habitually miss important votes on key policy initiatives and legislation by arriving late on the first day back for votes and leaving early on the last day of the week, oftentimes to attend fundraising events and campaign events," Boustany said. "As representatives of the people we have to uphold our duty."