27th Amendment Ignored? GOP to Withhold Congressional Pay Over Budget Deal

As the pending debt ceiling crisis nears, there are new proposals that would withhold pay for members of the Senate and House should they not pass a budget for this year in exchange for suspending the debt ceiling until May.

The idea is aimed at getting congressional members to pass a budget, something the Senate has not done since President Obama was elected. House members have only passed a budget for the last two years.

The 27th Amendment, which was passed in 1992, was the last amendment to be passed and is concerned with the pay of congressional members.

"No law, varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives, shall take effect, until an election of Representatives shall have intervened," the amendment reads.

The issue surrounding the 27th amendment came up after GOP House leaders proposed tying the pay of members of Congress to the current debt ceiling and budget debates.

On Monday, the House Rules Committee published a draft of the bill and several GOP leaders were certain that the bill was constitutional. They claimed that the bill that would not take away congressional pay, but rather withhold the funds until a budget is passed.

Section two of the bill details that congressional pay would be withheld after April 15, 2013, if members could not agree on a 2014 budget. Those withheld funds would be kept in an escrow account and given back to congressional members when a budget was passed or, if leaders once again failed to act, until the end of 113th Congress, which would fall on January 1, 2015.

Should the bill pass, Congress would suspend the debt ceiling until May 18, 2013, prolonging the fiscal problems that have been plaguing the United States in recent years. The bill also does not address the pending sequestration that would enact automatic spending cuts totaling $1.2 trillion.

However, some legal scholars are not sure that even withholding congressional pay is constitutional should a strict reading of the 27th amendment be used.

"The answer is unclear because the 27th Amendment has never been authoritatively interpreted by the Supreme Court … yet it seems almost certainly unconstitutional. Withholding pay effectively 'var[ies] the compensation' of lawmakers," Adam Winkler, law professor at UCLA, told Talking Points Memo.

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