In a show of solidarity with furloughed government workers, dozens of members of Congress announced this week that they are having their paychecks withheld or are donating the money to charity during the shutdown.
The gesture crosses party lines, with lawmakers like Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, one of the first to say he would give his salary to charity – “I intend to donate my salary to charity for each day the government is shut down,” Cruz said, as well as Sen. Kay Hagan, D-N.C., who told constituents that she would do so as well for as long as the government is closed.
“Congress should never play political games with the most basic function of keeping the government running,” Hagan wrote in her newsletter.
The roster includes conservatives, like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and liberals, like Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio.
Members of the House and Senate earn $174,000 a year. However, the 27th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution makes the withholding of pay problematic. The amendment forbids any “change” in members’ pay during a Congress, designed to prevent lawmakers from being able to raise their salaries.
“The U.S. Constitution requires that lawmakers’ salaries be paid in full regardless of whether or not there is a lapse in appropriations,” said Dan Weiser, communications director of the House’s Office of the Chief Administrative Officer. “However, members may request that the chief administrative officer not deliver their paychecks until the government reopens.”
But even the decision to withhold salary has caused a bit of political tension in some states. Cruz has not seen eye to eye with Texas’ senior senator, Minority Whip John Cornyn, also a Republican, on tactics during the government shutdown and has not curried any favor, refusing to endorse him in the 2014 election.
His move to donate to charity prompted a frosty response from Cornyn’s office.
“Sen. Cornyn will not be paid during the federal shutdown,” said spokeswoman Megan Mitchell. “He donates to charity and does not believe a government shutdown should necessitate charitable contributions. Compassion for your fellow man should.”
Through press releases, Twitter, YouTube, congressional newsletters and in interviews with the media, a growing group of senators and House members looked to deflect any criticism that they were withholding pay for government workers, while still cashing their paychecks.
“I shouldn’t get a salary while other fellow employees are denied the ability to go to work,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. “I’m going to take my salary and donate it to the Wounded Warrior program.”
“I happen to agree that it’s wrong for members of Congress to get paid while other federal workers do not,” said South Carolina Republican, Rep. Mick Mulvaney. “To that end, I have sent a letter to the chief administrative officer asking that my pay be withheld until the shutdown is resolved.”
“I believe in leading by example,” said Rep. Derek Kilmer, D-Wash. “If Congress can’t get its act together to stop a government shutdown, then I don’t believe members of Congress should be paid. . . . I will give up my pay for the duration of a government shutdown.”
“I have submitted this request to the House of Representatives,” said Rep. Vicky Hartzler, R-Mo. “Until the government shutdown is resolved, I request that my pay be withheld.”
“Basically the only people who get paid in a shutdown are members of Congress, and that is irresponsible,” Rep.Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, told CNN.
“Eighty percent of my staff, unfortunately, is on furlough,” Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., told the network. “I’m going to be contributing (my salary) on a daily basis.”
Frederick Hill, a spokesman for Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., the richest member of Congress, said that Issa “has long donated his salary to charity and intends to continue doing so.”