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Sinner floats 'no work, no play' initiative for Congress

U.S. House candidate George Sinner announces his "No Work, No Pay" initiative Tuesday, July 22, 2014, in Fargo, N.D., to cut pay to Congress members for unexcused missed votes and during a government shutdown. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

FARGO – George B. Sinner made clear Tuesday that he wants members of Congress to be held accountable when they miss votes.

“For all the rest of us here, if we don’t show up for work, we don’t get paid,” said Sinner, a Democrat running for North Dakota’s seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. “Why should it be any different for members of Congress?”

Sinner said that if elected, he would propose legislation that would impose financial penalties every time a member of Congress is absent for a vote. “If a member misses votes for unexcused reasons, they don’t get paid. Period.”

Sinner, a banker who’s the son of former Gov. George A. Sinner, held news conferences in Fargo, Bismarck and Grand Forks on Tuesday to announce his proposal, which included an attack on his opponent’s record of missed votes.

Rep. Kevin Cramer, who took office in January 2013, has missed 60 of 1,072 votes. That’s 5.6 percent, which is worse than the median of 2.5 percent for the lifetime records of current representatives, according to GovTrack, a nonpartisan website that compiles congressional data. In 2013, Cramer’s number of missed votes (26 of 641) was the 116th highest out of 439 representatives, GovTrack said.

In a phone interview, Cramer said Sinner’s proposal sounded “gimmicky,” stressing that Congress has priorities, like national defense and the economy, that are greater than cracking down on missed votes. He said the issue should be left up to the public, which already has the power to vote a poorly performing politician out of office.

Sinner “doesn’t seem to grasp that the work of a congressman isn’t just going to the floor and voting,” Cramer said. Along with shaping and shepherding legislation, “there is the constant, richly rewarding relationship with stakeholders.”

Cramer said that when he did miss votes, he either was meeting with constituents or he missed flights. Specifically, he mentioned one day in May when he missed 18 votes, all pertaining to an appropriations bill, so that he could accompany the chief of the U.S Forest Service to a meeting with the state’s farmers and ranchers. He said all the votes he missed were ones that he knew he would be on the winning side.

“Believe me. None of them were votes that required my vote to make the difference,” he said. “In every case, they were votes that my position prevailed.”

Sinner, a state senator for Fargo’s District 46, began serving in the 2013 session, during which he missed two days, said Hannah Johnson, a campaign spokeswoman.

“The first day his wife, Margaret, was sick with pneumonia and there were no votes scheduled that day,” Johnson said in an email. The second day was the final day of the session when he missed eight votes to attend a family reunion, she said.

The state Senate voted 939 times during the 80-day session, which means Sinner missed less than 1 percent of the votes.

Along with docked pay for missed votes, Sinner’s proposal would require members of Congress to balance the federal budget before receiving a pay raise beyond the cost of living. It would also force members to lose pay if the government shuts down.

Sinner acknowledged that passing such legislation might be difficult and that many parts of his proposal have failed before. “However, I do want to get members of Congress on the record that they oppose this type of legislation,” he said.

Percentage of missed votes

Among the lifetime records of U.S. representatives currently serving, the median of votes missed is 2.5 percent. For senators, the median is 2 percent.

Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., has missed 60 of 1,072 votes (5.6 percent).

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., has missed 15 of 524 votes (2.9 percent).

Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., has missed 287 of 15,435 votes (1.9 percent).

Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., has missed 15 of 1,010 votes (1.5 percent).

Sen Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., has missed 20 of 2,363 votes (0.8 percent).

Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., has missed 5 of 1,489 votes (0.3 percent).