Jeb Bush recently added a new line to his stump speech, scolding members of Congress with poor attendance records. “The reality is that Congress is in session for typically three days a week when they are up there, so it’s not asking too much that every member be there and work on those days,” the Republican presidential hopeful said.
Bush first made the comment in Florida, which led me to think it was just a little passive-aggressive shot at Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who keeps skipping votes, private hearings, and important policy briefings. But this is actually becoming a key feature of Bush’s national platform, as evidenced by this fairly new video from Team Jeb. For those who can’t watch videos online, the 15-second clip shows the following text:
“Jeb has a simple message to Congress:“If Congress skips votes or hearings, Jeb will dock their pay. It’s the responsible thing to do.”
Even by the standards of the 2016 Republican presidential race, this is a little weird.
I’ll concede that elected lawmakers should, as a matter of course, show up for work as often as possible. It can get frustrating to see members of Congress blow off votes or important hearings because they want to appear on television or go to a fundraiser. I have a strong hunch the focus groups convened by Bush’s campaign aides came to the same conclusion.
But Bush’s proposed solution is quite foolish. Just on the surface alone, it’s the sort of thing one might expect from someone with little understanding of how Congress works – sometimes, for example, hearings are scheduled at the same time and a lawmaker has to choose which one to go to. It’s hardly evidence of neglect or indifference.
Even Bush’s terminology is needlessly clumsy. “If Congress skips votes”? Congress refers to the institution itself; it can’t skip a vote.
But it’s the notion that a President Jeb “will dock their pay” that’s especially odd. The pitch makes it sound as if legislators are dependent on the White House for their paychecks, and if the boss gets mad, he or she can simply dock the pay of employees at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue.
Our constitutional system of government doesn’t work this way. Presidents can’t dock lawmakers’ pay on a whim – if they could, plenty of presidents probably would have tried this already.
Ian Millhiser added this morning that Constitution prohibits exactly what the former governor is describing: “The 27th Amendment provides that ‘[n]o law, varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives, shall take effect, until an election of Representatives shall have intervened,’ so any law changing congressional pay would not take place until after the next congressional election. More importantly, the Constitution provides that ‘Senators and Representatives shall receive a compensation for their services, to be ascertained by law,’ so Congress itself would have to acquiesce in Bush’s proposal for it to ever become law.”
The broader point, however, is that Jeb Bush sees himself as the grown-up of the GOP field. If that’s true, maybe he should steer clear of foolish gimmicks?