Rep. Newton Steers (R-Md.) is normally a peaceful man. He is as gentle as my politician can be.
Steers is not normally the sort to stab himself with his own paycheck, much less to withhold daily bread from his colleagues in the House.But the situation is not normal.
Thanks to a congressional bottleneck over the Labor-HEW appropration bill, more than 200,000 workers in those departments have been working for nothing technically, since Oct. 1. That was when the new federal fiscal year began. But employees can't be paid for services rendered since their budget hasn't been approved. Congress has run past the deadline in a dispute over federal funding of abortions.
What that means is that unless the bill (and the Labor-Hew payroll) is approved by the House, the Senate and the President by today, workers in those agencies will get only half salaries next Monday and Tuesday whom regular checks are distributed.
A lot of people think it is unfair that Congress, for whatever reason, can hold the checks of federal workers hostage while one member tries to persuade another member to see it his way, on an unrelated issue.
Some members of Congress, who make good money and have nice working conditions, have obviously lost touch with those constituents who live week-to-week, pay bills by money order and buy their kids clothes on layaway. For those people, getting half pay next week would be an unbelievable hardship.
To bring the problem closer to the individual members, Steers yesterday introduced a bill that would cut off congressional paychecks anytime Congress - through inaction - cuts off the checks of other federal workers.
If the Steers bill were law already, members of Congress would stand to miss their first October paycheck - and all subsequent checks until they resolve the Labor-HEW paycheck problem.
Odds-makers aren't giving the Steers bill much chance of passage. But he does make an interesting point.