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Monday, January 28, 2013

The 27th Amendment in the News

In 1982, while researching a paper, University of Texas undergraduate Gregory Watson discovered that, besides the Bill of Rights, the first Congress had submitted two other amendments to the states for ratification. One of the two amendments would have barred any change in congressional pay from going into effect until a congressional election had taken place. Watson learned that the pay amendment, though unratified at the time, was still viable because it lacked a deadline for ratification. The teaching assistant who graded the paper did not believe its argument and gave Watson a "C."  Nevertheless,  he began lobbying state legislatures to ratify it.  He had the last laugh in May 1992.  Amid public unhappiness with deficits, congressional pay raises and Capitol Hill misconduct, it got the necessary three-fourths of legislatures and became the 27th Amendment.

Scott Bomboy writes at Constitution Daily:
The debate over the “No Budget, No Pay” debt-ceiling deal has some people saying the proposed act is unconstitutional because of the 27th Amendment. But what happens if Congress passes a law that can be successfully challenged?
Any such challenge could take years in the appeals process as it heads to the Supreme Court and would possibly happen after the current 113th Congress has concluded its business.
The No Budget, No Pay Act of 2013 was passed last week in the House and extends the debt ceiling into May. Senate leaders and President Obama had said previously they would support the measure.
As part of the deal, pay for Congress members will be placed in an escrow account if an official budget isn’t approved by April 15, 2013.
After that date, if the House or Senate doesn’t approve a budget, the pay for the chamber in violation gets put aside until a budget is approved, or the current Congress ends in January 2015, and the money is released.
Link: Read the No Budget, No Pay Act
The 27th Amendment says that “No law, varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives, shall take effect, until an election of Representatives shall have intervened.” It was approved in 1992.
Some critics argue that by putting its pay on hold, Congress is “varying” its pay and directly violating the 27th Amendment, since a sitting Congress can’t change its own compensation. At the very least, they say, the law can’t take effect until the next Congress is seated in 2015.