Joni Ernst was elected to the Senate on the promise she would “make Washington squeal,” a slogan she has stuck with over the last five years.
In a press release Feb. 11, Ernst’s team said she was “known as the Senate’s leading foe of wasteful government spending.”
The statement was attached to news of the Iowa senator’s latest legislative effort, the “MAKE CENTS” (Making Americans Know about Excessive spending through Commonsense Efforts to Notice and Target Shenanigans) Act, a bill combining several of Ernst’s past proposals to reign in Washington’s “broken budget process” and hold lawmakers accountable for how they spend taxpayer money.
In January 2019, in the midst of the nation’s longest government shutdown, Ernst had a chance to put her proposals, including the “No Budget, No Pay” Act, to the test. Ernst joined the bill as a co-sponsor in 2018, supporting the idea that members of Congress should not be paid if they fail to meet the statutory deadline for passing a budget resolution or fail to fund the government by Oct. 1 of each year.
Instead, Ernst continued to collect a paycheck as hundreds of thousands of federal workers went without.
“Every department is funded with a separate bucket of money, and the administration and Congress is currently funded,” Ernst said, at a Jan. 23, 2019, town hall at the University of Northern Iowa. “So, yes, and there actually is a provision that prohibits us from not taking funds or salary. So I am currently taking a salary. I am working during the shutdown. I understand a lot of people don’t like that, but I would rather see ‘No Budget, No Recess’ — actually be in D.C., solve the issues, so we don’t have the shutdowns.”
The “No Budget, No Recess” Act, which prohibits lawmakers from leaving D.C. if they have not approved a budget by April 15 or passed appropriations bills by Aug. 1, also is part of Ernst’s new Make Cents Act.
At the time of her remarks, more than 100 members of Congress had said they would turn down their paychecks during the partial government shutdown, including 20 of her fellow senators.
In a Jan. 7, 2019, interview on the Simon Conway radio show, Ernst deflected when asked about bills in Congress that would restrict pay during a shutdown as a way to incentivize members to fund the government on time.
“Well, that implies incentive for those of us that maybe don’t come from a billionaire background, but people like Nancy Pelosi, that are kind of those limousine liberals, it doesn’t make a difference to them,” she said.
Fast-forward to her reelection campaign, which officially kicked off in June 2019, and Ernst is on the campaign trail and in Congress touting her commitment to reducing wasteful spending. That includes the measure for legislators to go without a paycheck and stay in D.C. if the budget doesn’t get finished.
“As a federal government, nobody is looking over our shoulder,” Ernst said last July at a town hall event in Clinton. “Nobody is held accountable. So, I offered up a number of these amendments or bills, so no budget, no recess. No budget, no pay. Okay? But the majority of members would not support it. Yeah. Because, why would I want to hold myself accountable, right? That’s horrible. And we shouldn’t have that attitude.”
In September, as lawmakers wrestled with the impending impeachment trial of President Donald Trump, Ernst took to the Senate floor to decry the “use-it-or-lose-it shopping spree” that occurs when agencies must spend down their budgets by Sept. 30 or lose the leftover money.
Her presentation was complete with lobsters and crabs wearing monocles and holding wads of cash, a nod to “binge buying bureaucrats” and the “$4.6 million” spent on fancy food.
The shellfish returned to the Senate floor Feb. 13, this time joined by a pig in a spacesuit that represented what Ernst called “the moondoggle.”
“I’m talking about the rockets that are being developed for NASA’s next moon mission,” Ernst said. “This project is billions of dollars over budget and years — not months, but years — behind schedule due to poor performance. Yet NASA still handed out generous bonuses totaling over $300 million to the contractor that is working on the project.”
As part of President Trump’s 2021 budget proposal, Ernst said it states “his administration is committed to stopping improper end of the year spending and will begin closely scrutinizing how money is being spent at the end of the fiscal year to curtail waste.”
By Elizabeth Meyer