Editorial: Sincere budget work needed in Senate

The Daily Herald Editorial Board
Updated 1/28/2013 9:38 AM

OK, we'll bite.

Yes, U.S. Rep. Randy Hultgren's House bill that would withhold the pay from federal lawmakers if they don't pass a budget is more grandstanding than grand design, but the Winfield Republican does have a point. Providing advice and consent on the president's budget is one of the chief responsibilities of Congress, yet the Senate hasn't done that for three years.

Having raised the debt ceiling for at least the seventh time since 2008, Congress -- and in particular the Senate -- surely has some 'splainin' to do on why it can't or won't pass a budget and live by it. It ought not be able to simply shrug its shoulders and move on.

We know the "no budget/no pay" provision is not the answer. Randy Hultgren and the 284 of his congressional colleagues who supported the House debt-ceiling bill with that provision as an amendment know it is not the answer. Nor does it have a prayer of passage. It has to pass muster, after all, with the very Senate that has found it just fine to subsist without a budget since 2010.

No, this measure is just a tweak of the Senate's nose, a challenge intended to embarrass senators -- Democratic senators in particular -- into at least putting themselves on record on matters of spending and revenue. And were it not for the fact that the House critics have a valid point, the gesture would be little more than another silly pretense in the sideshow that congressional politics has become.

But the critics do have a valid point. Hultgren is right when he says, "We have got to stop using last-minute legislating and short-term fixes."

One may well ask whether bogging down important legislation with acrimonious amendments that heighten the tension and rhetoric but do little or nothing to address the fundamental spending and revenue problems facing the country is a productive exercise. No doubt a humble and sincere effort at collaboration could produce a more favorable result more quickly.

But the Senate's lack of a budget remains a potent and unfortunate symbol of Congress' fiscal incompetence, not to mention its near-complete inability to accomplish something on any topic.

So, while we may never really get to the point of questioning whether it's a good idea -- or even constitutional -- to let the millionaires in the House and Senate who can afford to skip a government paycheck or to put the squeeze on the nonmillionaires who can't, it's still somehow satisfying to think that lawmakers could have -- as Illinois politicians these days might put it -- some personal skin in the game of the nation's fiscal health. That health is, after all, one of their top responsibilities and the issue on which almost all of them staked the political campaigns that put them in office.

To that extent, we're happy that the "no budget/no pay" grandstanding is getting some traction. But we'll be happier still when the Senate gets a budget and everyone in Washington shows a sincere commitment to sound financial planning.

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