Shutdown Pay for Lawmakers vs. Federal Employees

The pay of federal employees and elected Congressional representatives is treated differently. Here is why.

A federal government shutdown creates a financial mess. Hundreds of thousands of federal employees go without paychecks until the standoff in Washington gets ironed out.

In the latest instance, the shutdown was only for three days. Working out the details of who gets paid, how much they get paid, when they get paid or if the get paid will take much longer than the actual shutdown.

A number of readers have commented that the culprit for the shutdown mess falls upon Congress. When no budget is approved by the start of a new fiscal year, Congress has not lived up to its responsiblity.

Here is the irony in this situation. The 535 (elected) federal employees who have been unable to reach agreement on a budget still get paid.

Salaries for federal employees are not enshrined in our Constitution. But, unlike other federal employees, senators and House members still get paid during a shutdown.

Payment of their salaries is enshrined in the Constitution. Article 1, Section 6 of the U.S. Constitution reads:

The Senators and Representatives shall receive a Compensation for their Services, to be ascertained by Law, and paid out of the Treasury of the United States. (The Senators and Representatives shall receive a Compensation for their Services, to be ascertained by Law, and paid out of the Treasury of the United States.) (The preceding words in parentheses were modified by the 27th Amendment.) They shall in all Cases, except Treason, Felony and Breach of the Peace, be privileged from Arrest during their Attendance at the Session of their respective Houses, and in going to and returning from the same; and for any Speech or Debate in either House, they shall not be questioned in any other Place.

Some Congressional Representative Forfeit Their Salaries During Shutdown

Obviously, Congressional representatives are aware of this difference between federal employees and elected representatives.

Congresswoman Claudia Tenney (R-NY) introduced the No Work, No Pay Act of 2018 (H.R. 4870) the day before the shutdown started.  It would require lawmakers to forfeit their pay for each day the government is shutdown. The bill did not go anywhere before the shutdown was over but it could still pass into law.

Congressman Tenney also sent a letter to Chief Administrative Officer of the House, Phil Kiko, requesting that her salary be withheld until the shutdown is over.

A number of other representatives also indicated they would forego their salary during a shutdown.

The Washington Post estimated after the shutdown in 2013 about 250 lawmakers were donating, refusing or holding in escrow compensation earned over the course of the impasse. (The count included a few members who already donate their salary to charity).

About the Author

Ralph Smith has several decades of experience working with federal human resources issues. He has written extensively on a full range of human resources topics in books and newsletters and is a co-founder of two companies and several newsletters on federal human resources. Follow Ralph on Twitter: @RalphSmith47