Why does Congress still get paid during government shutdown?

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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.

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


  • Pete Athens (@athynz1)

    Now this is interesting… Senator Ted Cruz was the first one to say something about donating his pay and was vilified by everyone – media pundits were saying it’s an empty gesture – now that the Democrats are hoping on the bandwagon the media is singing praises about the gesture. HOW is it an empty gesture when Cruz does it but it’s not when the Democrats follow his example?

    • Bryan Casey

      Our goverment LIES again ……… The 27th Amendment states “A sitting congress can not change its pay.” …….. NO law was passed to shut down the govermnet…….they have no budget…..they shut down the goverment over funding issues……The lack of a law…….. NO LAW WAS PASSED….they should not get paid …. The 27th Amendment does not apply…..WHY THEN ARE THEY GETTING PAID.

      • jrf

        I agree. That’s what I’ve been wondering about. Different people have different interpretations. No funds, No pay. No law at all.

  • Stressed out Mom

    Personally as a one income family who just so happens that my husband works at one of the few not so important agencies the government shut down; we pray everyday that it ends because if he is not back to work soon we won’t be able to pay our bills come the first of next month which means while their acting like children not wanting to play nice with each other we will start missing our mortgage payments. We are a one income family not by choice I was laid off in 2010 from my job and was not able to find work so I returned to school for new career options and I have not worked except for fast food jobs part time in between semesters due to being a full time student. But here is the kicker my husbands agency audits government contractors digging for fraudulent charges and his office recovers more than they cost the government saving the tax payers millions. But while he is laid off it is giving those same contractors time to hide and cover up what questions have already been laid at their doors step.
    So while they fight and biker in Washington I will loss my house and they will loose the taxpayers millions and still collect a paycheck? How is that right they are the ones causing this and why should they still collect a paycheck when they are forcing so many to do with out. Not to mention what came down to my husband the day before stated he was “NOT” allowed to seek other employment, “NOT” allowed to get a part time job, and “NOT” allowed to file for unemployment. But at least they are getting paid so maybe they will be able to keep all of their many homes!

  • mirquella

    Senator Ted Cruz does not care about this country after all he was born in Canada and that’s where his heart is. He came here to destroy this great nation.

  • Bryan Casey

    Our goverment LIES again ……… The 27th Amendment states “A sitting congress can not change its pay.” …….. NO law was passed to shut down the govermnet…….they have no budget…..they shut down the goverment over funding …….. NO LAW WAS PASSED….they should not get paid …. The 27th Amendment does not apply…..WHY THEN ARE THEY GETTING PAID.

    • David Lecell

      You are really stupid if you believe that. Are just a racist, ignorant, biggot. Regardless of where he is from he is our President. If he were from England would that make it better Kelly? Unbelieavable.

  • Mike

    I’m reading about lots of people congress talking about holding/deferring or donating their paychecks to charitable organisations. REALLY? How many people in congress are living paycheck to paycheck? I think they can stay afloat for a while during the shutdown without pay. Can YOU donate a whole months of income and still make you mortgage payment? “The 27th Amendment to the Constitution restricts any Congress from changing its own pay”(increasing or decreasing) This was not an overlooked accidental amendment… It was placed to protect their (ass)ets.

  • Wendy cast

    I am a housewife and mother that tried to go back to teaching this year, either full or part time, due to the government furloughs in the beginning of the year. I couldn’t get an interview even though I have exceptional recommendations from past employers have taught middle school, high school and college. I hold a masters degree in my subject area and could not find a job. Now my husband is not getting his government paycheck. With two young children and having had major surgery 3 weeks ago, we will, for the first time in our lives, not be able to pay utilities or our mortgage or even buy food if the people we elected to make policy can not make policy. God Bless us all and help us through this terrible time. The Republicans in the House of Representatives are sending us all back into a financial crisis that we have barely crawled out of and have not recovered from.



  • jason

    wow, it must be nice to be able to decide to give your paycheck away to any cause or charity just because…i wonder what those tax returns look like…

  • T ash

    Congress needs to do the right thing and get the job done a budget, they have had year but waited until the last minute and throw things that should be dealt with as separate issues. The job is budget not debating obamacar. They can debate that as separate issue. Maybe if they p,ave the 27 th amendment on the budget instead of Obama care making reforms to it to assist the budget such as making them deal with what they are putting civila servants through it would be a real gesture of good faith.

  • Brigette Brinton

    I’d like to see them create a fund to pay the government employees that are furloghed and won’t ever receive pay because of Congress’s stupidity.
    Let’s see how many thousands of everyday-American employees that a few hundred paychecks from members of Congress can pay.

  • Sherry

    Can we just fire all of them and go with an independent party that can agree. Why should the us economy suffer because those jack asses can’t get their shit together. I say fire them all!!!!!

  • Sherry

    Can we fire all of them and vote in an independent party. Why shoutd the us economy suffer because they can’t get their crap together and agree. Fire them all!!!!!

  • Rodger Broadway

    This kind of crap is a huge reason I can’t stand politicians…They are a bunch of lemmings…the Republicans only do things other Republicans do…the Democrats only do things other Democrats do…they wont agree with the other simply because they are a different party…As far as them being “generous” & “doing the right thing” & donating their pay, they will simply right it off as a tax deduction because they donated it to charity…No law will ever be passed or admendment written up taking their pay in the event of a shutdown due to them not wanting to give up their money

  • Russell B

    If congress was not paid during a shutdown I bet they would fix it a lot quicker, there is no real life incentive for them to fix it if they still get paid.

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