The 27th Amendment is the most recent, and all this talk about no budget and no payform is an ongoing battle in Washington because of congressional pay raises, which were approved in 1992.
“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, as approved in 1992.
The amendment states that a sitting Congress can’t change its pay while it is in session.
It’s not a new idea. The amendment was proposed back in 1789 by Founding Father James Madison along with other amendments that became the Bill of Rights, but it took 203 years for it to become the law of the land. In 1982, a college undergraduate student, Gregory Watson, discovered that the proposed amendment could still be ratified and started a grassroots campaign.
In 1992, Alabama became the 38th state to sign off on the 27th Amendment, making it a law.
Since then, the 27th Amendment has gotten very little publicity, expect for the occasional news story about Watson’s personal quest to get it passed.
That is, until late last week, when GOP House leaders proposed linking congressional pay to the budget debate. It didn’t take long for journalists and academics to recall the 27th Amendment.
On Monday, the House Rules Committee published its proposed bill, about one hour before President Barack Obama’s inauguration. House GOP leaders seemed convinced the proposed bill didn’t violate the 27th Amendment.
According to section 2 of the bill, a payroll administrator would withhold Congress’ pay after April 15, 2013, if it couldn’t agree on a fiscal year 2014 budget. The money would be held in an escrow account and given back to Congress members when a budget was passed or at the end of the current 113th Congress in January 1, 2015.
In exchange, Congress would suspend the debt ceiling until May 18, 2013.
Initially, House Oversight Committee chair Darrell Issa, a Republican, said he thought the bill was unconstitutional, according to a report on the website Roll Call. The site said Issa’s office quickly issued a statement, saying that “the final proposal brought before the House will have resolved any constitutional questions and that it will have my support.”
Others were quick to point out that withholding pay, even temporarily, would “vary” the compensation for Congress members, and in their opinion, presented a direct violation of the 27th Amendment.
Among the critics was UCLA law professor Adam Winkler, who gave a detailed explanation on the website Talking Points Memo.
“The answer is unclear because the 27th Amendment has never been authoritatively interpreted by the Supreme Court,” Winkler said in an email to the website. “Yet it seems almost certainly unconstitutional. Withholding pay effectively ‘var[ies] the compensation’ of lawmakers.”