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 in 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. 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 — told CNN that they still hoped that a shutdown could be avoided and wouldn’t respond to specifics about their pay yet.
While members would get paid, they must decide which of their own office staff have to go home.
Members of Congress run their own office payroll and would 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 would get paid on time.