Cutting Off Congress
I was on Sirius XM POTUS the other day talking about the debt ceiling, and we batted around an interesting hypothetical raised by a caller. Suppose we hit the debt ceiling and the President responds by cutting spending (while continuing to pay the interest on Treasury bonds). As part of that austerity, he declares that no member of Congress shall be paid until the debt ceiling is raised. Would that be constitutional?
One thought would be “no” because the Treasury’s failure to pay members of Congress when the Executive Branch has the ability to do so would violate separation-of-powers. (Note that this claim would be even stronger if the President selectively refused to pay, say, only Republicans.) On the other hand, one could say that the Constitution says nothing about the sanctity of congressional salaries, whereas it does say that the salaries of the President and of federal judges may not be lowered (at least in nominal dollars). Should that omission be considered irrelevant because there is a structural principle about the security of salaries for significant federal officials, or does it suggest that Congress must take care to ensure that its salaries can be funded with some kind of legislation?