A thousand days.
In our gazelle-paced, über-networked society, so many remarkable, epochal events have taken place during the last thousand days:
Both the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street emerged as powerful rebuttals to the status quo in American politics...
The Arab Spring ushered in a domino effect that toppled vicious dictators across the Middle East...
A handful of European democracies teetered on the brink of collapse, while world powers rushed to preserve the global economy...
And most significant of all... Two Kardahsian weddings were followed by one Kardashian divorce.
But one critical thing has not occured:
It's been more than one thousand days since the U.S. Congress passed a budget resolution.
And in the meantime, the congressional appropriations process -- the means by which all federal spending is authorized and allocated -- has simply broken down. During the current fiscal year, only 3 of the 12 regular appropriations bills have been passed.
Sound like a lot of inside the Beltway jargon?
Here's what it means:
When Congress acts without a budget, it essentially is spending taxpayer money without first evaluating and prioritizing its services. A budget, in essence, is a blueprint that allows us as a nation to make deliberate decisions on how to allocate our scarce resources. Without one, taxpayers are forced to pick up the tab for the waste and inefficiencies.
When Congress fails to pass spending bills on time, it relies instead on temporary spending measures. In the past fiscal year, there were six such temporary "continuing resolutions." This start-and-stop spending process causes havoc for federal agencies that provide for our national defense, transportation financing, education support, environmental protection and product and food safety. Government is forced to operate in a fog of financial uncertainty, resulting sometimes in delays of critical national services.
But guess who's been paid right on time, like a Swiss clock, during this entire thousand day period?
No need for a spoiler alert: It's just too delicious an irony... the U.S. Congress.
When the rest of us fail to pay our bills, we run the risk of utility interruption, our purchases repossessed, our homes foreclosed. If we fail to do our jobs, we could get our pay reduced; perhaps even fired.
But not Congress.
When they fail to comply with their most simple, most obvious, most constitutionally necessary duty, they face no repercussions.
Frustration with our polarized and paralyzed political system led me to help co-found No Labels, a national grassroots movement involving over 400,000 Americans -- Democrats, Republicans and Independents -- who believe that our leaders need to put aside their labels on occasion to do what's right for our nation.
That's why we recently released a 12-point plan called "Make Congress Work," a reform package that involves 12 simple, easy-to-enact changes to help fix our broken democracy.
And topping our list?
No Budget, No Pay.
If Congress fails in its paramount responsibility to enact a federal budget, they wouldn't get paid.
A few weeks ago, legislation to implement No Budget, No Pay was introduced in the Senate (S. 1981) by Senator Dean Heller (R-NV) and the House (H.R. 3643) by Congressman Jim Cooper (D-TN). The Heller/Cooper bills would require the House and Senate to pass a budget and all twelve appropriations bills by the beginning of the fiscal year.
If they fail to do so, they wouldn't get paid. And if they are late, they wouldn't get back pay.
Would No Budget, No Pay work?
It would force Senators and Congressmen to come to the negotiating table on budget and spending bills and stay there until they reach agreement. Furthermore, it would help restore faith in our deservedly-much-maligned political institutions by signaling that Congress understands our frustration, and that they are taking concrete steps to address it. By passing this bill, Congress would be telling their constituents: "We don't expect to get paid until we earn your trust."
Indeed, No Budget, No Pay has already been successfully tested in California. In 2010, California voters passed a constitutional referendum that required the state legislature to submit a budget before the state's deadline or lose a day's wages for each day it was not passed. Despite historically difficult fiscal challenges, the 2011 session of the California state legislature presented its budget on time to the Governor -- for only the sixth time in the past 25 years.
Already, the Heller/Cooper "No Budget, No Pay" legislation has attracted more than a dozen co-sponsors, from both parties, in the House and Senate. Senator Joe Lieberman (I-CT) has agreed to hold the first public hearing on the bill in his Senate Homeland Security and Government Reform Committee on March 7.
But with the bills' subject matter threatening the wallets and purses of the very Congressmen who are needed to vote for it, full passage will require more than our simple good wishes. The House and Senate will pass No Budget, No Pay only if sufficient public pressure is mounted to force Congress' hand.
And the power rests with you.
If you support No Budget, No Pay, it is incumbent on you to take action:
While you are at the No Labels website, check out all twelve proposals within our "Make Congress Work" package. I think you will find many great ideas that would help get our government working again.
While the economic recovery is slowly building steam, too many Americans are still suffering from the brutal financial crisis. Meanwhile, much of Congress continues to fiddle around while the nation burns.
"No Budget, No Pay" will force our leaders to suffer financial consequences should they continue to fail to act to get our government moving forward again. Or, hopefully, it will help convince them to see the light, put aside their labels, and act in the country's best interests.
It's up to all of us to see that it happens. There's no excuse for inaction. The time is now for mobilizing our citizen armies.
Let's get to work.
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