Washington briefs for Jan. 28, 2013

The Louisiana delegation in the U.S. House voted along party lines this past week for the “No Budget No Pay Act.”

The legislation that passed the House on a 285-144 vote extends the nation’s debt ceiling another three months, but the bill also would freeze pay for members of Congress if the House and Senate fail to adopt federal budget proposals by April 15.

While “No Budget No Pay” makes for a nice bumper sticker or Twitter hash tag, critics called it a political gimmick that will only stall federal budget and spending negotiations.

The House has only passed budgets that are dead on arrival, while Senate filibustering has forced any Senate budget plan to acquire 60 votes, which has not occurred.

Reps. Rodney Alexander, R-Quitman; Charles Boustany, R-Lafayette; Bill Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge; John Fleming, R-Minden; and Steve Scalise, R-Jefferson, all voted for the measure, while Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-New Orleans opposed it.

“It is time for the House majority to stop playing politics with the American and global economy,” Richmond said after the vote.

“The bill we voted on ... ensures more drawn-out fights ahead. We must instead pass legislation which resolves this debt-limit issue for the long term. That is the only way to give businesses and citizens the certainty they need. I refuse to support a bill that delays us from the task of actual debt reduction and job creation.”

The Republicans saw things differently. Cassidy said the legislation would force the Senate to act.

“Congress can only get our fiscal house in order if we prioritize, on paper, what we will spend taxpayer money on and how much. Just like Louisiana families do,” Cassidy said in a prepared statement. “Since Republicans took control, the House of Representatives has passed two budgets. Meanwhile, the last time the Senate passed a budget, Apple’s iPad hadn’t even been invented.”

Counseling funds available

Louisiana is receiving $4.5 million in federal funds for counseling programs for residents in the aftermath of hurricanes and other disasters.

Sen. Mary L. Landrieu, D-La., who chairs the Senate Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee, announced the Federal Emergency Management Agency grant that will go to the state for its Crisis Counseling Assistance and Training Program.

“The massive strain a disaster brings is more than just financial,” Landrieu said in the announcement. “This program aims to combat the disruption to everyday life that can harm the emotional and mental well-being of individuals and their families in the wake of a disaster. Through counseling and emotional support, disaster survivors will be better able to cope and adjust to the recovery process.”

The federal program goes to states after a presidential disaster declaration, such as with Hurricane Isaac last year.

The program is meant to provide services that focus on preventing or mitigating the adverse repercussions of a disaster through various prevention and public health approaches.

The program includes counseling, education, the development of coping skills and linking people to other resources.

Vitter introduces legislation

Sen. David Vitter, R-La., introduced several of what he called “government reform” bills this week in the Senate.

The bills touched on issues he has long championed, such as eliminating automatic pay raises for members and implementing congressional term limits. Vitter was successful in putting in term limits in Louisiana when he was a member of the state Legislature.

“There is real bipartisan disappointment in Congress and its dysfunction, and it should certainly not get rewarded with automatic pay raises without public debate.” Vitter said.

“We can start working together in a bipartisan fashion by flatly requiring any member of Congress who wants an automatic raise each year to publicly ask for, defend it and explain it to their constituents by putting it to a vote.”

Vitter’s bipartisan bill, reintroduced with Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., is the latest step in his ongoing effort to eliminate automatic congressional pay increases.

Another of Vitter’s bills would prohibit spouses and the immediate family of congressional members from receiving payments from campaign accounts.

Vitter, with U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., also introduced bipartisan legislation to reduce bureaucracy in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Compiled by Jordan Blum, chief of The Advocate Washington bureau. His email address is jblum@theadvocate.com.