WASHINGTON — Sen. Olympia Snowe has an idea to help restore public faith in Washington: Don’t pay lawmakers and the president until they get the government up and running again.
“It is imperative that members of the legislative and executive branches be treated no differently than other federal employees,” the Maine Republican said in an interview.
Snowe introduced a bill Thursday to deny paychecks to members of Congress and President Clinton until the government shutdown ends. The bill would treat Congress and Clinton the same as other federal employees who are being forced to work without pay.
Once the shutdown ends, Congress and Clinton would receive all their back pay. Snowe hopes her bill will give the public one less reason to be angry with Congress.
Like other members of Maine’s delegation, Snowe said something must be done to quell the growing backlash against Congress from an already cynical public.
“These aren’t times that inspire confidence in government,” she said.
Scoffing at polls that show growing public support for Clinton’s stance in the showdown, she said that no one gains from shutting down the government.
“No one will remain unscathed from this,” Snowe said. “No one will benefit in the final analysis.”
Maine Sen. William Cohen, one of 22 Republican co-sponsors of Snowe’s bill, agreed.
“The people of the country deserve better,” Cohen said.
Cohen and Snowe also support a Democratic bill to eliminate pay for members of Congress during any future government shutdown and not permit them to receive back pay. The bill cannot apply to this particular shutdown because lawmakers are constitutionally forbidden from changing salaries in the middle of a congressional session.
Rep. John Baldacci is taking a different tack to ease the public’s bitterness. The Bangor Democrat tried to turn down his pay during the shutdown, but federal tax law prohibits lawmakers from turning down their paychecks to prevent them from avoiding income tax. So Baldacci pledged to return the money he earns during the shutdown to the Treasury Department’s deficit-reduction fund.
But Rep. Jim Longley Jr. said he will not return his paycheck because he is “working overtime to get the president to agree to balance the federal budget.” He said he won’t comment on Snowe’s bill until a House version is introduced.
Pay or no pay, public approval of Congress is not likely to improve any time soon.
Snowe said Republicans deserve to be blamed for failing to complete their work on time, but Clinton also is at fault for refusing to negotiate a seven-year balanced budget.
The first step toward restoring public trust, she said, would be for both sides to agree to an interim spending bill so federal workers can return to their jobs. Then Congress and Clinton could get down to the “main event”: haggling over balancing the budget.
Even then, Snowe warned, partisan rhetoric must be toned down to reach a deal and earn some public respect.
“It should not be an all-or-nothing proposal for either side,” she said.
Added Cohen: “Both sides are digging in when, in fact, you need to compromise. … It doesn’t take a genius to figure out each side needs to compromise.”