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House passes 'no budget, no pay' bill, but is it unconstitutional?

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In other words, it isn’t really a “no pay” bill. It’s a “delayed pay” bill. Even if the Senate doesn’t pass a budget, senators would get their full pay at the end of the session.

Not that most of them need it, since they’re pretty rich as a rule, right?

So it all comes down to the meaning of “vary.” Some experts say the language is clever and passes muster. “I suspect this passes Constitutional scrutiny,” writes Jordan Ragusa, associate professor of political science at the College of Charleston, at the Rule 22 congressional politics blog.

Others point out that money has a time value, and delayed payments are in essence smaller. Plus, it’s possible there are members of Congress who live paycheck to paycheck and need the money.

And “vary,” on the surface, seems to mean ... well, changing the pattern of. Which would seem to cover what’s happening.

In light of this, “the proposal would thus be unconstitutional,” writes Eugene Volokh, a law professor at the University of California at Los Angeles, on his Volokh Conspiracy blog.

Of course, in the real world this is probably a moot point. What member of Congress is going to sue to get their pay under these circumstances? This is especially true given that 86 House Democrats voted for the bill, as President Obama’s party sees the legislation as a white flag on the part of the GOP, something that allows Congress to skirt the debt limit issue and move on to other fiscal arguments.

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