So, here we are in Day 2 of the “shutdown” of the federal government. Let’s set aside, for the moment, the discussion of who’s really keeping us in a shutdown state and look at something that’s got to be giving the congressional public relations critters some cold sweat. From WTOP news:
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. Most entrances to House and Senate office buildings and underground parking garages are closed.
Yeah, that’s nice. The rest of us are looking at up to weeks of, at least, deferred pay – and we contractors won’t even get that, regardless of whether Congress votes to restore back pay – while the lawmakers continue to receive their direct deposits. The immediate thought that they shouldn’t be getting paid, either, runs into a pretty big roadblock, however:
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. Senators and House members are paid $174,000 a year; a handful of leaders make up to $20,000 more.
The 27th Amendment is pretty short and sweet:
No law, varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives, shall take effect, until an election of representatives shall have intervened.
(Interesting fast fact: this amendment was actually first proposed on September 25, 1789. At the time, only 6 of the then-14 states chose to ratify it, those being MD, NC, SC, DE, VT, and VA. Over the course of the next 200 years, additional states finally got around to ratifying it, finally achieving sufficient numbers for full ratification on May 7, 1992.) The purpose of the amendment is clearly to make sure that no Congress can vote themselves a pay raise and that’s a good thing. Unfortunately, it puts them in the position of telling the rest of the federal government that they’re going without pay while they, themselves, continue to rake in a salary that’s pretty damned good even in this area with its high cost of living. However, I have a modest proposal to help them out with the optics of this situation.
The amendment states that they can’t pass a law varying the compensation for their… ahem… services. How about, instead of varying the compensation, they pass a law that directs their paychecks into an escrow that they, themselves, cannot touch? Every lawmaker’s every paycheck while the government is in shutdown goes into an escrow account and sits there, inaccessible by Congress in any way until and unless a budget is duly passed and enacted. In fact, how about we make that law permanent across the board? So when Harry Reid decides that the Senate doesn’t need to adhere to the law and produce a budget each and every year as is required by the Constitution, the lawmaker’s checks immediately get diverted into the escrow until the budget is done. Just for good measure, we’ll throw the President’s and Vice-President’s paychecks in there, too.
I know they all say they understand the pain the rest of us are going through, but – as I’ve heard it said lately – they have no skin in this game. I think maybe we should give them some.