House Republicans say they have surefire way to make the federal government cut spending: Freeze lawmakers pay if it doesn't happen. The problem, say legal scholars, is that it's unconstitutional.
One provision a plan to extend US borrowing authority for nearly three months sets an April 15 deadline for the House and Senate to pass a formal budget, The Wall Street Journal reports. The provision specifies that if they don't, lawmakers' pay would be withheld.
But Lou Fisher, a retired constitutional law expert, said the pay provision may violate the constitutional prohibition on Congress "varying" its own pay, a measure designed to prevent lawmakers voting themselves pay increases. While legislators can't boost their own pay for the current congressional session, they also can't cut it.
And Adam Winkler, a constitutional law professor at UCLA School of Law, told Talking Points Memo that the proposal faces a serious hurdle because of the 27th Amendment. "It seems almost certainly unconstitutional. Withholding pay effectively 'var[ies] the compensation' of lawmakers. The amendment doesn't say only raises in pay are invalid. It refers to 'varying the compensation.'"
House Republican leaders don't believe it is unconstitutional, a GOP aide said, because the provision withholds but doesn't change lawmakers' salary.
Via The Wall Street Journal and Talking Points Memo.