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Congress still gets paid, even during a government shut down

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WASHINGTON (CNN) — In an extended shutdown, most of the federal workforce would go without pay, but the checks will keep coming to the 533 current members of Congress.

“That is disgraceful in my view,” said freshman Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, told CNN. “Basically the only people who get paid in a shutdown are members of Congress, and that is irresponsible.”

Gabbard plans to send any pay she receives during a shutdown back to the Treasury. The combat veteran said she was shocked to find out recently that members’ pay is protected.

It is — by the Constitution.

The 27th Amendment to the Constitution restricts any Congress from changing its own pay. The measure was proposed in the first days of the Republic but was not ratified until 1992, after a grass-roots movement promoted the idea and the necessary number of state legislatures approved it.

While many may have wanted to restrain Congress from increasing its pay, the amendment also blocks Congress from freezing or cutting its compensation.

The result? Congress gets paid no matter what. Gabbard is not the only member surprised.

“I don’t even know whether it stops or not,” Rep. John Fleming, R-Louisiana, said when asked about his pay during a shutdown.

When told that the Constitution mandates congressional paychecks stay as-is, Fleming responded that he hadn’t thought through what he would do yet but would likely donate his pay during a shutdown to charity.

“Obviously we need to share the pain of the American people,” he concluded.

The offices for the top two members of Congress — House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid — wouldn’t respond to specifics about their pay.

According to a report by the Lexington Herald-Leader newspaper, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, plans to donate his salary to charity during the shutdown.

Rep. Pete Gallego, D-Texas, told CNN he is urging his fellow members of Congress to donate their pay to charitable causes.

“I don’t think we should get paid until (the shutdown) is resolved,” Rep. Pete DeSantis, R-Fla, told CNN’s Jake Tapper on Tuesday. “I’ve asked the clerk to withhold any pay for me until we get this up and running. I just think that that’s fair for the folks involved who’ve been negatively affected by this.”

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Maryland, disagreed with DeSantis. “I think that’s another game (House Republicans) want to play, appealing to a demagogic approach to this,” Hoyer told Tapper on Tuesday.

“Members of Congress ought to be on the job working hard,” Hoyer added, “getting this job done to the American people, getting their government opened, getting federal employees back to work and serving the public, serving the growth of our economy, serving our national security ends.”

While members will get paid, they must decide which of their own office staff have to go home.

Members of Congress run their own office payroll and will decide who is essential and non essential. But even congressional staff members who work during a shutdown would not get paid until later — only their bosses will get paid on time.

“My staffers are working with pay. Right now,” Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Oklahoma, said Tuesday on “Crossfire.”

“They’re doing oversight on the federal government. … They’re continuing to work on the waste.”

Coburn also said he’s keeping his salary earned during the shutdown. “I’m going to keep my salary and going to make sure I spend it and tithe it and give to it charities and do the thing that I’ve always done. … I’m not going to stop working.”

But Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, who appeared alongside Coburn on “Crossfire” on Tuesday, is taking a different approach.

“Eighty percent of my staff, unfortunately, is on furlough,” she said, “I’m going to be contributing [my salary] on a daily basis. For every day we are not seeing an open — a government that’s open, I’m contributing.”

CNN’s Athena Jones, Tasha Diakides, and Martina Stewart contributed to this report.

By Lisa Desjardins

CNN Capitol Hill reporter

™ & © 2013 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company. All rights reserved.


  • Tonya

    This article is so one-sided… There are a lot of senators – Democrats and Republicans – that are refusing their pay or donating their pay to charities… Do your own research and look it up!

  • Sam

    It’s great that some believe they shouldn’t get paid and I think charities are a wonderful thing but in this case for those that are willing to give up their paychecks instead of sending it to a charity they could pay people that are furloughed instead. Those are the ones that will really be affected by this. Give the money to them so their families are taken care of.

  • Ripped

    So what charity is pResident 0bama donating his pay check too? After all this is his fault.

    0bama is a compulsive liar he should be addressing the Senate democrats they are the ones refusing to open dialogue with the house today.

  • kathryn morrison

    outrageous! but then again, once they leave office, they get paid big salaries for life anyway. and people wonder why we’re in trouble financially. how about the big bonuses for doing a lousy job on wall street. disgusting! i’m self-employed; if i don’t work i don’t get paid.

  • Mark

    100% absurdity. Cut every one of their benefits and perks every part. If you look at their work schedules the pay is not worth the effort they put in and way way to much for what they accomplish

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