Opinion: Shutdowns and showdowns

By former Assemblymember Steven Sanders

The federal government shutdown is over, at least for now. This lull before the next budget deadline is a good time to reflect on recent events. Does the president really have an appetite for putting 800,000 federal workers through that financial trauma again? Does he really want to again halt essential functions rendered by FBI agents and air traffic controllers, persons running national parks or those dispensing critical human services to the needy?

Some years ago, when budget delays were common in New York State for lack of an agreement between the legislature and the governor, the state at that time enacted a policy whereby legislators would not be paid until the budget was passed. This was done both in the hopes of spurring agreements as well as punishment for negligent and tardy behavior. So here is an idea:

Come February 15, if there is no budget in place in Washington D.C. and hostages need to be taken, have the members of the executive branch of government, including the president, vice president, the cabinet and their staffs go without their pay until the issues are resolved. And do the same with all members of Congress and their staffs. Whether elected officials are paid bi-weekly, bi-monthly, or once a year, it is legal.

Rumor has it that there is legislation to do just that which is actually being proposed in the House of Representatives. Good. Let them put their money where their mouth is.

Don’t get me wrong, none of this should be necessary to sort out policy disputes. Our democracy was built on checks and balances and the encouragement and even the imperative of compromise. That is part of our unique American history. But if the president is intent on exacting pain to use as leverage to get what he wants, let the people directly involved in the dispute and their associates feel the pinch.

But one cautionary note. The first time suspension of pay was implemented in New York during the 1999 budgetary stalemate, legislators did not get paid and yet the impasse on the budget lasted longer than any time in prior history. But at least state employees were not used as collateral damage and the work of government to serve the people continued without interruption. Who can argue with that?

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