You can’t say they’ve been slow to act.
Since the 112th Congress first convened on January 3rd of this year, the U.S. House of Representatives has been aggressively pursuing an agenda of cutting government spending. With the passage of bills that repeal Obamacare, de-fund NPR, and discontinue federal subsidies for special interest group Planned Parenthood (just to name a few), the House has demonstrated that it “got the message” in last year’s election.
And now it’s time for Speaker of the House John Boehner, the man who has led this frenetic charge, to take direct aim at the most obvious form of political self interest. It is time for Speaker Boehner to move forward on cutting the salaries of elected members of Congress.
Boehner’s leadership in the U.S. House has been front-and-center in a much larger story that has emerged nationwide. Led by state Governors Chris Christie of New Jersey, John Kasich of Ohio, Scott Walker of Wisconsin, Rick Snyder of Michigan, and C.L. Butch Otter of Idaho, elected Republicans around the country have been getting back to doing what Republicans should have been doing for the entire last decade – cutting government spending, and reducing government intrusion in private sector business matters. As such, the Republican Party has initiated a very healthy and necessary debate about the proper role of government in society, and has also provided an attractive and distinct alternative to President Obama’s “the state above all else” vision.
And now, as he goes about the people’s business day-to-day in the national spotlight, Speaker Boehner can add a new level of depth and richness to this national debate, and demonstrate that real statesmanship is capable of real self-restraint and real self-sacrifice. If he would champion the idea of congressional pay cuts and make it a legislative priority, he would likely find that the idea has broad bipartisan support among the American electorate, would create lots of “good will” on behalf of the Republican Party, and – most importantly – would move the federal government further in the correct fiscal direction.
To be clear, there has been chatter on Capitol Hill about congressional pay cuts for quite some time. Last year for example, Congresswoman Ann Kirkpatrick (D-Arizona) proposed the idea, but with her own party in charge in Washington the idea went nowhere. However, Kirkpatrick also pushed the Obamacare agenda on a less-than-agreeable Arizona electorate, while at the same time she pledged to forego the lavish healthcare plan afforded to her as a member of congress and agreed to instead participate in the President’s government-run health plan herself. While cuts in congressional salary and benefits were certainly noble ideas, Ms. Kirkpatrick nonetheless managed to get herself un-elected last November as she became one of the infamous one-termer Democratic freshmen who rode the Obama wave to victory in 2008, only to crash with him two years later.
But at the start of this year another Arizonan -and a much more moderate Democrat - Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords took up the mantle. Introducing the “congressional pay cut act” on January 6th, Ms. Giffords attracted co-sponsorship of her legislation from such diverse House members as the big-spending Rep. Jim Costa (D-California), and the always-looking-for-leaner-government Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas). The Giffords bill calls for a meager 5% decrease in congressional pay, yet seems to be stalled for the time being as Ms. Giffords herself continues her miraculous recovery from her own horrific shooting that occurred two days later.
And herein lies the opportunity for Mr. Boehner. If the Speaker of the House would take the baton and move forward while at the same time making cuts in both congressional pay and benefits even steeper, he could demonstrate that American statesmanship is capable of self-sacrifice, and truly operating in the interests of the “common good.”
And imagine the impact that Speaker Boehner could have on Republican leaders at the state level. If, for example, Governors across the country were inspired to self-impose their own salary and benefits reduction, it could go a long way to demonstrate that teachers and law enforcement officers are not the only government employees that are being asked to “do more with less.”
Owing to the reality that the U.S. Senate is still controlled by the Obama Democrats, many of Boehner’s legislative achievements have been dismissed as “merely symbolic” (the Senate, for example, will never agree to de-funding National Public Radio). To this, the House Majority has rightly offered a very succinct response: “give us more Republicans in the Senate, and we’ll make our spending cuts a reality.”
But Speaker Boehner has the power, right now, to demonstrate that recipients of some of the most lavish salaries and benefits in the world (all of which are funded with our tax dollars) are capable of self-sacrifice. Mr. Boehner, this is your time -are you ready?