27th amendment 2013

27th Amendment Remedy Floated To Force Congress To Do Their Jobs

The 27th Amendment is one of the later, more arcane additions to the Constitution (isn’t that the one about due photo processing?), and few have discussed it since its adoption in 1992 — but a recent suggestion by US Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-FL) has some in Congress calling foul.

So what exactly is the 27th Amendment? While we don’t hear about it much, expect to perhaps see that change — it has to do with how members of Congress are paid and the ways in which that ties into their performance as lawmakers.

In plain words, the 27th Amendment reads:

“No law, varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives, shall take effect, until an election of Representatives shall have intervened.”

The point of the law is to effectively prevent Congress from giving itself a raise without having to be re-elected before doing so, but how it applies to our current budgetary quagmires remains to be seen.

The Herald Tribune explains that Buchanan has advocated for using it to force Congress to pass a budget:

“Buchanan, R-Longboat Key, has joined on as a co-sponsor of a bill that would withhold the pay of every member of Congress every time they fail to pass a budget by Oct. 1, the start of each fiscal year for the federal government … Members of Congress are paid $174,000 a year.”

Approval for Congress is at a pretty consistent low, and invocation of the 27th Amendment has even fiscally sanctimonious Republicans quaking in their boots. In a fiery column for The Hill, Buchanan explains his reasoning behind co-sponsoring a bill tying compensation to budget, writing:

“The legislation I have co-sponsored is simple – members of the U.S. Senate and House do not get paid until they pass a budget. The appropriately named ‘No Budget, No Pay Act,’ stipulates that if Congress does not approve a budget and spending bills by October 1st of each year, the paycheck for every single member of the Senate and House will be withheld until a budget is approved. Additionally, no member can retroactively receive pay that would have been earned during the time without a budget.

Fiscal Cliff Deal Passed House

The Republican adds the he believes Congress should face the same consequences average wage earners do when failing to do their jobs effectively:

No small business would tolerate paying an employee who refuses to do his or her job. So why should taxpayers pay a Congress that refuses to complete one of its most basic annual responsibilities?”

Rep. Darrel Issa (R-CA) has said the measure is “unconstitutional,” but it seems the American people might support such a use of the 27th Amendment. It should be noted that Buchanan, like Issa, is a member of Congress wealthy independent of his Congressional salary of $174,000 yearly, and is not financially dependent on that wage. (Issa later clarified his initial position on the proposal.)

UCLA law professor Adam Winkle opined that the 27th Amendment ploy is a wild card, and that the “answer [of constitutionality] is unclear because the 27th Amendment has never been authoritatively interpreted by the Supreme Court,” adding it appears such use would indeed be unconstitutional as it varies lawmaker pay.