Oversight chairman raises constitutional questions on GOP debt-limit plan

House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) has questioned whether the GOP plan to raise the debt ceiling violates the Constitution.

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The GOP plans to pass a three-month debt-ceiling increase next week. It wants to add a “No Budget, No Pay” bill to it requiring congressional pay to be “withheld” unless the House and Senate approve budget resolutions by April 15. The GOP is hoping to force the Senate to pass a budget for the first time in nearly four years. 

Issa notes in a statement provided to The Hill that the 27th Amendment to the Constitution prohibits Congress from varying its own pay. 

The amendment was designed to prevent Congress from raising its own pay before an election has happened.

“I have not read the legislative text of the ‘No Budget, No Pay’ proposal and how it approaches historically difficult questions about Congressional compensation.  I would note that there has even been legal action taken challenging the current system that gives Members of Congress an automatic pay-raise,” he said. 

He said that Congress can “certainly withhold pay,” under the Constitution. This may mean that members would have to be paid before the end of the 113th Congress even if they have not passed a budget — raising questions about the effectiveness of the act. 

“I expect the final proposal brought before the House will have resolved any constitutional questions and that it will have my support,” he said. 

The statement clarifies a earlier comment to Roll Call in which Issa calls the proposal flatly unconstitutional. 

The bipartisan group No Labels has been pushing the No Budget, No Pay idea but last year said that to be constitutional, the bill would have to apply to the next Congress.

“If Congress doesn’t act in 2012, a No Budget, No Pay law could not take effect until 2015 at the earliest — meaning we’re more likely to have another three years of budgetary dysfunction,” it said last year. 

Issa says he favors flatly linking passage of the budget to an increase in the debt ceiling.