As House Republicans and Senate Democrats continue their bitter partisan battle over how to fund the government this year, careening toward a March 4 deadline for a government shutdown should they fail, two Senators on Thursday introduced legislation to block pay for members of Congress and the president, should such an event occur.
Lawmakers and the president are currently paid under the mandatory portion of the budget, similar to entitlement programs.
Sens. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and Bob Casey, R-Pa., told reporters they hope their bill will spur members to the negotiating table.
"Failing to keep the government open because of politics or because there's no will to compromise, is a failure of government. If the government is forced to shut down, members of Congress and the president should be treated the same way as all other government employees - we should not be paid," Boxer said, adding, "To take it one step further - we should not be paid retroactively once the government opens."
The Boxer-Casey bill would force congressmen and the president into the same category as every other federal worker whose pay dries up when the government is forced to close its doors. The measure would also halt pay should members fail to raise the nation's debt limit at any time. The current $14.3 trillion cap on the amount the nation can borrow could be breached as early as April, and conservative Republicans are threatening to withhold support should deficit reduction measures not be tied to the move.
Republicans continue to insist that their goal is not to shutter the government, merely to enact steep spending cuts and other austerity measures in order to start to make a dent in the nation's deficit.
"Read my lips: We will cut spending," House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, promised Thursday.
"The only people talking about shutting down the government are a handful of Senate Democrats at a press conference today," said Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky in a statement from his office. A senior GOP aide chided, "We've finally found something that Democrats are willing to cut, but only if they shut the government down first."
Enacting the kinds of cuts currently being considered in the House would, Democrats say, jeopardize economic recovery and endanger the nation.
Boxer was unable to cite examples of where common ground might be found, merely saying, "We've got to talk to each other." Bipartisan talks are occurring behind the scenes, according to sources, but it would likely be to merely extend the current temporary funding measure, called a "continuing resolution," another month or two, just in time for members to decide whether or not they will approve an increase in the amount the nation can borrow. Either way, the Boxer-Casey legislation, if approved, would leave members and President Obama without a paycheck, a move that could force members, however ideologically disparate, to start to negotiate.