A government shutdown won’t stop members of Congress from being paid, although the House of Representatives has voted to stop receiving pay if the nation faces the more serious problem of defaulting on its debts.
Rank-and-file members of the House and Senate receive $174,000 in annual salaries; congressional leaders get more. Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio, third in line for the presidency, receives $223,500 a year, slightly less than the $230,700 salary for Vice President Joe Biden and about half of the $400,000 salary for President Obama.
Members of Congress, along with Obama and Biden, get paid during a government shutdown because their jobs are authorized by the U.S. Constitution and they are paid with mandatory funds not dependent on passage of annual appropriations.
Their staffs, though, are not so lucky. They’ll be treated the same as military and federal workers. Essential employees, which include all presidential appointees, will be required to work and will accrue pay but, like service members, they won’t receive it until legislative funding is restored. Non-essential employees would not be required to work and would receive pay only if Congress ultimately provides retroactive salaries.
There have been several bills proposed over the years to deny or reduce congressional salaries, but none have become law. The House of Representatives has approved a 2014 pay clause that would withhold congressional salaries if the government goes into default, but it is not clear if that would be constitutional.
The 27th Amendment to the Constitution, aimed at preventing lawmakers from being overly generous with their own salaries, prevents any change in congressional compensation from taking effect until after an election. The next election is in November 2014.
The constitutional amendment was first proposed in the 1789 but it was only ratified by six states, short of the 11 needed for it to be ratified. The amendment finally was ratified in 1992. Federal courts have ruled the amendment does not apply to cost-of-living adjustment, which members of Congress automatically receive unless they vote to deny the annual increase.
Nothing prevents lawmakers from voluntarily forgoing pay. Rep. Martha Roby, R-Ala., has notified the House paymaster to withhold her pay if troops are not getting paid. “If there is a government shutdown that interrupts salary payments to our troops, my salary should stop as well,” she said.