Heller repackages 'no budget, no pay' proposal

WASHINGTON -- Sen. Dean Heller on Tuesday ramped up his call to withhold pay to members of Congress if they fail to pass timely budgets.

Heller, a Nevada Republican, introduced legislation in the Senate that would block paychecks to lawmakers if they fail to enact a budget resolution and annual appropriations bills before the start of a fiscal year.

Congress last adopted a budget resolution on April 29, 2009, and has not completed appropriations bills for the 2012 fiscal year, which began Oct. 1.

Heller announced the legislation, which is being introduced in the House by Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Tenn., at a news conference organized by the No Labels campaign, a nonpartisan organization that is launching a 12-point Make Congress Work plan aimed at breaking gridlock, reducing political polarization and promoting constructive debate.

About 400 supporters of the No Labels movement were at the news conference, which drew a dozen lawmakers and former lawmakers who are backing the 12-point plan. The plan would limit filibusters and prevent incumbents from campaigning against colleagues.

Heller said that passing his "no budget, no pay" proposal would be difficult. He already has heard complaints from tea party members in Congress who think it is unconstitutional. It also is not popular with high-paid senior staffers who by law cannot earn more than a member of Congress. Rank-and-file lawmakers are paid $174,000 a year.

Heller's appearance with the No Labels group drew a sharp response from Zach Hudson, a spokesman for the Nevada State Democratic Party.

"Dean Heller can't disguise his 20-year ideological, partisan agenda with a stunt political conference," Hudson said.

Heller proposed a similar measure in July that applied only to the budget resolution. He had hoped to add his proposal as an amendment to pending legislation, but the opportunity did not present itself.

Former Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Ind., who also was at the event, endorsed Heller's proposal, saying it would force lawmakers to approve budgets in a timely fashion.

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.V., said the proposal would have an effect even on wealthy lawmakers.

"It's tough. People with means may be able to do without, but they truly don't want to. That's how they got their means," he said.

The No Labels group was co-founded by former U.S. Comptroller General David Walker; Mark McKinnon, a former adviser to President George Bush; Kiki McLean, a former adviser to Vice President Al Gore; and Bill Galston, a former adviser to President Bill Clinton.

Contact Stephens Washington Bureau writer Peter Urban at purban@stephensmedia.com or 202-783-1760.