No pay raise without a balanced budget

state web bannerCourtesy of Inside Michigan Politics

Democrat Pam Byrnes tells Inside Michigan Politics that Congress shouldn’t get a pay raise until after members pass a balanced budget as a way to “cut wasteful Washington spending.”

The former state House Speaker pro-tem, who is challenging Tea Party favorite U.S. Rep. Tim Walberg (R-Tipton) in the 7th Congressional District, said it’s part of her list of spending cuts to “get our budget back on track.”

Byrnes said in an exclusive phone interview with IMP following President Barack Obama’s State of the Union speech that she was glad he stressed a minimum wage hike, but she was disappointed he didn’t discuss spending cuts.

“He needs to be dealing with those issues,” she said. “People want to see fiscal responsibility.”

In addition to distancing herself from the president, Byrnes is making a clear conservative economic appeal to voters in the GOP-leaning district.

“We need to get out house in order,” Byrnes said. “You know my track record. We need to be running things efficiently, cutting wasteful spending and duplication of efforts. We could save a lot of money cleaning our house — cutting the clutter, so to speak.”

Although Byrnes can’t outflank Walberg, who has voted for the Balanced Budget Amendment (BBA), she’s not prepared to cede the issue and appears ready to fight the “liberal” label the congressman will inevitably try to pin on her.

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder just played on similar ground to woo the Tea Party in his State of the State address, calling for (non-binding) state legislative resolutions supporting a federal BBA.

Byrnes isn’t prepared to endorse the BBA, as she said she’s hesitant as an attorney to back more limits in the Constitution. Instead, she wants to “incentivize” a balanced budget by withholding pay raises for members of Congress, something she said is achievable in two or three years. She acknowledged some economists are concerned that reducing the deficit too much too fast could slow economic growth.

The last time the federal budget was balanced was under President Bill Clinton, who had a GOP-controlled Congress. The Congressional Budget Office estimates the deficit for this fiscal year to be $642 billion, down from $1 trillion levels during previous years in Obama’s presidency.

The MI-7, which covers south central Michigan, including the population bases of Jackson and Monroe, has been a GOP stronghold. The district used to have a 55% GOP base and is now at 52% with the 2011 redistricting.

The seat has long been held by Republicans, with the exception of 2008, when Mark Schauer, who’s now running for governor, defeated Walberg in his freshman term. But Walberg won the 2010 rematch, and trounced an unknown challenger in 2012.

Byrnes notes that in 2009, she voted in favor of a concurrent resolution requesting that the State Officers’ Compensation Commission recommend a 10% reduction in salaries for legislators and elected executive officials. The Legislature didn’t pass the pay cut until the following term, when Byrnes was out of office.

If elected to Congress, Byrnes said she would also support “oversight of every government program” to see if they’re working. Congress should only continue funding those that do. She also wants to reduce spending by $10 billion by cutting “wasteful, duplicate spending” identified by the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office.

When asked if there were specific programs she’d like to ax, Byrnes said that all departments have to be subject to periodic efficiency reviews, like “any good business uses.”

Byrnes also wants to negotiate prescription drug prices under Medicare, which she said would save $156 billion.