It Helps No One for Members of Congress Not to Get Paid During a Shutdown

It’s a stunt. And it says a lot about our current Congress.

John Zangas, a furloughed worker, protests the government shutdown on Capitol Hill on October 2, 2013 in Washington, DC. 
National Journal
Matt Berman
Add to Briefcase
Matt Berman
Oct. 3, 2013, 2 a.m.

Mem­bers of Con­gress will get paid $174,000 this year. But at least 100 mem­bers of Con­gress from both parties have pro­posed to re­fuse or give away their pay dur­ing the gov­ern­ment shut­down in solid­ar­ity with fur­loughed fed­er­al work­ers.

Many of these state­ments are from mem­bers who are pledging to donate their salary dur­ing this term to char­ity, which of course no one would com­plain about. But some mem­bers are try­ing dif­fer­ent routes. Rep. Rick No­lan, D-Minn., in­tro­duced a bill Tues­day that would re­quire mem­bers of Con­gress to have their salary with­held dur­ing a shut­down. House Eth­ics Com­mit­tee Chair­man Mike Con­away, R-Texas, sent a let­ter to the chief ad­min­is­trat­ive of­ficer ask­ing for his pay to be with­held for the dur­a­tion of the shut­down.

These high-pro­file dona­tions and pay re­quests have cre­ated a not-in­sub­stan­tial amount of pos­it­ive buzz for mem­bers of Con­gress dur­ing a time when al­most everything be­ing said about them is neg­at­ive. But this isn’t only a PR stunt. It’s also a mo­ment that high­lights how re­moved mem­bers of Con­gress are from the real­ity of most of Amer­ica. 

Most Amer­ic­ans can’t just de­mand to have their pay docked or with­held, or eas­ily part with an un­known amount of their salary. Be­cause most Amer­ic­ans aren’t nearly as wealthy as mem­bers of Con­gress.

The me­di­an net worth of mem­bers of Con­gress was $966,001 in 2011, ac­cord­ing to an ana­lys­is by Open­Secrets.org. That’s an es­tim­ated av­er­age of $856,009 for House mem­bers and $2,531,528 for sen­at­ors. The same ana­lys­is found that more than 48 per­cent of Con­gress has an es­tim­ated net worth of more than $1 mil­lion.

Let’s look at the flip side: In 2010, a Fed­er­al Re­serve sur­vey found that the av­er­age fam­ily net worth was $77,300, down 40 per­cent from the be­gin­ning of the re­ces­sion in 2007. The av­er­age fed­er­al em­ploy­ee had a salary of $78,500 as of this year. Over­all me­di­an house­hold in­come in 2012 was $51,017.

So, yeah, dock­ing the nearly $7,000 con­gres­sion­al gross pay of a two-week shut­down (if it goes that long) sounds rough for most Amer­ic­ans. But for a large num­ber of mem­bers of Con­gress, that $7,000 — which is nearly 14 per­cent of the an­nu­al me­di­an house­hold in­come — means al­most noth­ing. That pay would mean even less if it was just kept in the mighty cof­fers of the U.S. gov­ern­ment.

There’s noth­ing in­her­ently wrong with mem­bers of Con­gress be­ing wealth­i­er than av­er­age Amer­ic­ans. But for most mem­bers — in­clud­ing people like Rep. Mi­chael Mc­Caul, R-Texas., with an es­tim­ated net worth of up to half-a-bil­lion dol­lars — donat­ing your shut­down salary to a char­ity doesn’t really mean much skin off your back. Rep. Dar­rell Issa, R-Cal­if., who joins Mc­Caul as one of the top two wealth­i­est mem­bers of Con­gress, says he already donates his en­tire con­gres­sion­al salary to char­ity.

Un­doubtedly, gen­er­os­ity is something Amer­ic­ans would like to see from their rep­res­ent­at­ives. But if a stand­ard for work­ing in Con­gress means that you should be com­fort­able for­go­ing an as-yet-un­known peri­od of pay, then there’s not much of a hope that Con­gress could be­come more eco­nom­ic­ally rep­res­ent­at­ive of the rest of the coun­try. 

Mem­bers of Con­gress’ re­li­ance on out­side in­come can also have ad­verse ef­fects on polit­ics and policy. It shouldn’t be the case that, for real money, mem­bers need to look past Con­gress and through the re­volving-door to plush lob­by­ing gigs, as count­less former mem­bers of Con­gress have done.

Oh, and one oth­er thing. Chan­ging the way Con­gress is paid mid-ses­sion is un­con­sti­tu­tion­al.

Here’s the 27th Amend­ment:

No law, vary­ing the com­pens­a­tion for the ser­vices of the Sen­at­ors and Rep­res­ent­at­ives, shall take ef­fect, un­til an elec­tion of Rep­res­ent­at­ives shall have in­ter­vened.

There has not been an “elec­tion of Rep­res­ent­at­ives” in the last week. And un­less this shut­down goes on for long enough, there won’t be. And really, if the shut­down went that long, con­gres­sion­al pay would be the least of any­one’s wor­ries.

What We're Following See More »
“HOLY HELL TO PAY” IF TRUMP FIRES A.G.
Sen. Graham Supporting Sessions
5 hours ago
THE LATEST

"Sen. Lindsay Graham said he is '100 percent behind' embattled Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and said there would be 'holy hell to pay' if President Donald Trump fires him. Graham also said that if the president went after special prosecutor Robert Mueller, who’s directing the investigation into possible contacts between Trump’s circle and Russia, that could be the 'beginning of the end of the Trump presidency, unless Mueller did something wrong.'"

Source:
AMiDST COMMS STAFF SHAKEUP
Sanders New WH Press Secretary
6 hours ago
THE LATEST

"With little pomp or circumstance, Sarah Huckabee Sanders stepped up to the briefing room podium and got straight to business Friday, reading announcements about "Made in America Week" and a new executive order on defense. Minutes later, newly minted communications director Anthony Scaramucci announced she was formally taking over as White House press secretary. In the aftermath of a chaotic communications staff shakeup at the White House last week, there was little attention paid to a new milestone as Sanders assumed the role."

Source:
JOINT CHIEFS TO KEEP POLICY UNTIL GIVEN DIRECTIONS
No Instructions to Pentagon, No Change in Transgender Policy
7 hours ago
THE DETAILS

"The highest ranking military officer in the country said that the military’s transgender policy won’t actively change until President Trump sends specific directions to the Pentagon. 'There will be no modifications to the current policy until the president’s direction has been received by the secretary of defense and the secretary has issued implementation guidance,' Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford wrote in a letter."

Source:
TO INVICTUS GAMES IN CANADA
FLOTUS First Trip Solo
7 hours ago
THE LATEST
SCARAMUCCI INSINUATED PRIEBUS LEAKED INFO
Two of Trump’s Top Advisors Feuding
7 hours ago
THE LATEST

"A long-simmering feud between two of President Trump’s top advisers reached a boiling point Thursday, as White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci publicly insinuated that chief of staff Reince Priebus is a leaker."

Source:
×
×

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.

Login