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A Letter to Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Thad Cochran and Ranking Member Robert Byrd: Oppose Repeal of 2 U.S. Code 39, the "No Work, No Pay" Law

June 29, 2005

The Honorable Thad Cochran
The Honorable Robert C. Byrd
U.S. Senate Committee on Appropriations
United States Capitol, Room S-128
Washington, DC 20510

Dear Chairman Cochran and Ranking Member Byrd:

On behalf of the 350,000-member National Taxpayers Union, I write to express concern over recent attempts to repeal a law that requires Members of Congress to forgo pay for days missed due to campaign appearances or other unexcused absences.

According to 2 U.S. Code 39, ?The Secretary of the Senate ... shall deduct from the monthly payments (or other periodic payments authorized by law) of each Member ... the amount of his salary for each day that he has been absent from the Senate ... unless such Member ... assigns as the reason for such absence the sickness of himself or of some member of his family.? Under 2 U.S. Code 48, the President of the Senate is responsible for certifying the salary accounts of Senators. To discharge that responsibility, the President must make a good faith inquiry into whether any salary deductions under Section 39 are in order.

NTU has long held that Congress should introduce procedures to implement this law, which, unfortunately, has been largely ignored for decades. Therefore, we were greatly disappointed to learn that the Senate Legislative Branch Appropriations bill contains a provision that would strike Section 39.

Some might dismiss Section 39 as a technical provision that has outlived its usefulness, but we urge you to instead consider this rule on the basis of its own merit, regardless of whatever past enforcement history it may have. Indeed, rather than citing lack of enforcement as a reason for repealing the ?no work, no pay? law, Members of Congress should take this opportunity to put real teeth into Section 39. America?s laws should not be merely ornamental; instead, they should serve to protect taxpayers and foster accountability in government.

NTU has found that many taxpayers agree with this principle. Upon release of a study earlier this year regarding the no work, no pay law, NTU received numerous calls and e-mails from our members expressing concern over the lack of enforcement of Section 39 and asking what could be done to ensure implementation of the rule.

In fact, enforcing this law would not require a Herculean effort on the part of Congress. It could amount to an absence certification form that Congress Members submit with their regular office payroll documents, which in turn could be reported to the Chief Administrative Officer in the House and the Secretary of the Senate. Salary deductions could be based on a formula and made through the normal payroll process. NTU has suggested dividing the annual Congressional salary by the number of days in a given year, minus federal holidays and weekend days, to calculate a per-day deduction amount.

In light of Section 39?s potential to encourage accountability in Congress and protect tax dollars, NTU urges you to oppose repeal of 2 U.S. Code 39 by any and all means, including floor amendments to the Senate Legislative Branch Appropriations bill and deletion of the repeal provision in the conference process.


John Berthoud
National Taxpayers Union


Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist
Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid
U.S. House Committee on Appropriations Chairman Jerry Lewis and Ranking Member David R. Obey
House Majority Leader Tom Delay
House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi