Solidarity only goes so far – law prevents Congress from forfeiting pay
Some members of Arizona’s congressional delegation hoped to show solidarity with furloughed federal employees by cutting or suspending their pay during the government shutdown.
“Hoped” being the operative word.
The chief administrative officer of the House said Wednesday that, according to the 27th Amendment to the Constitution, members of Congress have to be paid. the most the chief administrative officer can do is hold their checks until the shutdown is over.
Even though he was aware of the amendment, Rep. David Schweikert, R-Fountain Hills, thought that “it was the right thing to do to reach out to the CAO administrator and ask that he not be compensated during this time,” an aide said.
Schweikert was one of two Arizona lawmakers, with Rep. Matt Salmon, R-Mesa, who asked not to be paid during the shutdown, during which thousands of federal workers have been furloughed.
Other members of the Arizona delegation have pledged to give their salaries to charity for as long as the shutdown lasts and at least one has gone on record refusing to give up his salary and saying he would focus instead on ending the shutdown and getting pay back to the furloughed workers.
In a news release announcing his salary offer, Salmon blamed Senate Democrats for the shutdown, saying they are “refusing to come to the table” in negotiations over a fiscal 2014 budget. He said he was requesting a pay suspension out of solidarity with workers.
“Because this gridlock has unfairly affected thousands of furloughed federal employees, I have voluntarily requested that my congressional pay be suspended for the duration of the appropriations lapse,” the press release said.
Salmon’s spokeswoman, Kristine Michalson, said the letter he sent to House administrators was similar to those sent by other lawmakers volunteering to give up their pay.
Dan Weiser, spokesman for the House chief administrative officer, confirmed that other members of Congress had asked to give up their pay, but would not say how many had sent letters.
Weiser said members would have to be paid eventually because of the 27th Amendment, which says no law can vary the compensation for representatives or senators.
Mark Harkins, senior fellow at Georgetown University’s Government Affairs Institute, said it is possible that members of Congress who submitted these letters did so knowing that they would still get paid, and were using it as a political move.
“If they didn’t know, they should’ve,” Harkins said. “If they do know, then it’s absolutely for show.”
Once they are paid, members of Congress can do whatever they want with their money, which is why the situation is less complicated for Reps. Ron Barber, D-Tucson, and Ann Kirkpatrick, D-Flagstaff, to take their paychecks and then donate the money to charity.
Barber will choose three charities for each day of the shutdown, starting with the Primavera Foundation, the United Community Health Center and the Good Neighbor Alliance, said spokesman Mark Kimble said.
Members of Congress could also make a “gift to the United States” and donate the money to the Department of Treasury, which would keep the money with the government, said Treasury spokesman Anthony Coley.
Rep. Raul Grijalva, meanwhile, does not want to use his paycheck to “make himself part of a narrative” by giving up his pay during the shutdown, spokesman Adam Sarvana said. The Tucson Democrat did not support a shutdown from the start and hopes to end it in no more than a week, Sarvana said.
“The issue is the federal workers who are actually out of work,” Sarvana said.