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Jack Rooney | Friday, February 15, 2013

Last week, President Barack Obama signed a rather peculiar piece of legislation into law. This law is not odd in the sense that it provides pork barrel spending for projects that neither need nor deserve the money. Neither does this law establish an obscure holiday, such as National Grapefruit Month (which, by the way, is this month). Rather, this law, commonly known as “No Budget No Pay,” is a rarity in Washington these days because it contains a genuine and innovative idea that ultimately aims to make Congress work better and more efficiently.
At its most basic level, the law states that if Congress does not pass a budget, then representatives do not receive their salary until a budget is passed. The law, which won’t take effect until 2014, is beautiful in its simplicity and fundamentally aims to force our elected officials to do their jobs. Let’s face it; if I, as a student, were to stop doing my homework or assigned reading, I could not reasonably expect to receive the same grades as if I were doing all of my work. In the same way, this law requires representatives do perhaps the most important part of their job before they receive any payment.
Now, of course this law does not change the political landscape completely. It is, however, a step toward progress, which is always the right direction. The law will not affect many representatives, who rely very little on their government paycheck (the median net worth for a member of Congress in 2011 was $913,000). Representatives will not lose any of their pay (which is $174,000 for rank and file members and $193,500 for leadership positions), either, but rather it will simply be withheld until they pass a budget. Furthermore, the law only applies to the April deadline for a budget resolution, and not the 12 appropriations bills that must follow to allocate the money.
Despite these shortcomings of the bill, I nevertheless believe this law could be a watershed moment for Congress. It is an undeniable step in the right direction because it presents an innovative idea that solely aims to make Congress work. I truly feel this is a moment that needs to be seized, though, because of where the idea for No Budget No Pay began. The concept behind the law is the brainchild of a “non-partisan” group called No Labels, and it is only one point in a 12-point plan to “make Congress work.”
A statement on the group’s website describes No Labels as “a growing citizens’ movement of Democrats, Republicans and everything in between dedicated to promoting a new politics of problem solving.” No Labels is not a lobbying group. Nor is it a special interest group. And it is certainly not a Super PAC. It is simply a group that wants for our country what all of us should demand from our leaders. No Labels is not confined to one party or ideology and neither does it care about political issues. Their only concern is stopping the political gridlock we have all become far too accustomed to and making the government focus on actual achievement and progress.
The best part about No Labels, though, is that No Budget No Pay is only the tip of the iceberg. In Dec. of 2011, the group released its 12-point plan to “Make Congress Work!” and has not looked back since. Aside from No Budget No Pay, this plan includes other creative ideas designed to foster increased Congressional productivity such as banning all pledges (like pledging to never raise taxes) other than the oath of office and allowing a “sensible majority” to override a committee chair’s refusal to put a bill before the whole House or Senate. Other proposals put forth by No Labels range from the simple (bipartisan seating) to the more controversial (requiring a straight up or down vote on all presidential appointments within 90 days) to the downright intriguing (a monthly question and answer session between Congress and the President, similar to the UK’s Prime Minister’s Questions).
All of the proposals, no matter how feasible, put the issue of political efficiency and effectiveness in a more prominent position, which is something we desperately need. Somehow, we as Americans have grown complacent enough to accept Congress’s inability to do actual work. We have come to accept the gridlock and division as business as usual. We have put ourselves in a dangerous place by accepting unacceptable work. The only way to reverse this culture of stalemate politics is to demand more of our leaders and more of ourselves. We need to shed our political labels in the pursuit of progress. In order to secure a better tomorrow, we need to work together today.

Jack Rooney is a freshman studying political science.  He can be contacted at jrooney1@nd.edu
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.