Anyone who thinks H.R. 325 — the No Budget No Pay law that House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) wants everyone to believe will do so much and be so important — will, in fact, make any difference is both falling for Boehner’s spin and doesn’t understand how the congressional budget process really works.
According to the Congressional Budget Act, a “budget” is not really a budget until the House and Senate agree on a congressional budget resolution conference report, that is, each house has to adopt its own budget and then compromise with the other on a joint agreement. The House- or Senate-passed budget resolution means nothing and neither that house nor Congress as a whole is obligated to follow it.
But the text of H.R. 325 makes it clear that the budget included in No Budget No Pay is not a budget resolution conference report:
If by April 15, 2013, a House of Congress has not agreed to a concurrent resolution on the budget for fiscal year 2014 …the payroll administrator of that House of Congress shall deposit in an escrow account all payments otherwise required to be made during such period for the compensation of Members of Congress who serve in that House of Congress, and shall release such payments to such Members only upon the expiration of such period.
In other words, No Budget No Pay doesn’t require the House and Senate to compromise on a budget, just that they agree on their own budget plan.
This is particularly important because of the misperception that No Budget No Pay means that reconciliation — the procedure that prevents a filibuster in the Senate when changes in spending and revenues are ordered in a budget resolution — can happen if just the Senate passes its own budget resolution. That’s completely untrue: Reconciliation only happens pursuant to instructions in a budget resolution conference report. In other words, the one thing that might actually have had an impact on the budget debate — a budget resolution conference agreement — is precisely what No Budget No Pay doesn’t require.
No Budget No Pay means nothing unless the two houses voluntarily compromise their differences, and that’s what neither has been willing to do.