There’s at least one constant in a government shutdown: The 532 members of Congress continue to be paid — at a cost of $10,583.85 per hour to taxpayers.
Lawmakers get their pay even as hundreds of congressional staffers are sent home, packs of tourists are turned away at the Capitol, and constituent services in many offices grind to a halt.
House members and senators can’t withhold their own pay even if they want to. Under the Constitution’s 27th Amendment, lawmakers can only change the pay of those in a future Congress, not the one in which they serve.
Lawmakers aren’t oblivious to how it looks. Republican Sen. Ted Cruz and others are pledging to donate their salaries to charity during the shutdown.
While lawmakers’ paychecks will continue, the same isn’t true for their aides and some support staff at the Capitol. Like some 800,000 other federal employees judged to be nonessential and therefore furloughed, thousands of workers on Capitol Hill were sent home Tuesday. Those who weren’t will still see their paychecks delayed.
Six members of Washington state’s 12-member congressional delegation have promised to give up their pay during the federal government shutdown that began Tuesday.
Reps. Derek Kilmer and Suzan DelBene, both Democrats, and Republican Reps. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, Doc Hastings and Dave Reichert, have all confirmed that they will forgo their salary for the duration of the shutdown. Republican Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler announced on Twitter that she will give 100 percent of her salary to a local charity. Members of the House and Senate make $174,000 a year, and some in leadership roles make more.
Kilmer and McMorris Rodgers have both filed a letter with the chief administrative officer of the House to request that their pay be withheld. DelBene spokesman Viet Shelton said that DelBene would continue to be automatically paid, but would return the amount equitable to her salary during the shutdown to the U.S. Department of Treasury. Reichert spokeswoman Leighanna Driftmier said late Tuesday in an email that Reichert is asking that his salary be withheld during the shutdown.
Since March, DelBene has already been returning 8.2 percent of her salary each month to Treasury in response to across-the-board budget cuts, known as sequestration, that were done earlier this year. Neal Kirby, a spokesman for Hastings, did not indicate if Hastings had submitted a letter to officials, but said Hastings would “forgo receiving his Congressional salary until normal federal government operations are restored.”
Kilmer and DelBene announced their decision on Twitter, and a spokeswoman for the House Republican Conference confirmed McMorris Rodgers’ stand by email.
In a statement issued on Monday, Kilmer said that he believed “in leading by example.”
“If Congress can’t get its act together to stop a government shutdown, then I don’t believe Members of Congress should be paid,” he wrote.
Herrera Beutler will donate her pay during the shutdown to Shared Hope International, a Vancouver-based nonprofit group that seeks to prevent sex trafficking, until Congress “gets the government back up and running,” said her spokesman, Casey Bowman.
A spokesman for Rep. Rick Larsen said that the Democrat would not be returning his pay during the shutdown.
“Congress is responsible for ending the Republican shutdown, and Rep. Larsen’s constituents expect him to be working hard toward that end,” spokesman Bryan Thomas wrote in an email response. “He will be.”
Also keeping their pay are fellow Democratic Reps. Adam Smith and Denny Heck. In a written statement Heck said he would be “making an immediate contribution from my salary to support families of furloughed employees negatively affected by the shutdown.”
A spokesman for Heck did not respond to emails seeking additional information on how much Heck planned to donate, or whether the donation would go to individuals or to a specific organization.
Smith said by email that he would “keep working hard to end the shutdown as soon as possible.”
Democratic Sen. Patty Murray also will keep her pay. However, spokesman Matt McAlvanah noted Murray previously supported a measure that would have suspended all lawmakers’ pay during any such shutdown. That measure passed the Senate but was never taken up by the House.
“She continues to support that approach,” McAlvanah wrote in an email.
Phone and email messages left with the offices of the rest of the delegation — Democratic Sen. Maria Cantwell and Democratic Rep. Jim McDermott — were not returned.