Promise breakers: Congressional lawmakers shirk shutdown pledge, keep paychecks
By Jacqueline Klimas
The Washington Times
Thursday, November 7, 2013
Nearly half of Congress promised to share federal workers' pain during the partial government shutdown by forsaking pay — but now that the shutdown is over and employees got paid, many lawmakers say they deserve their own checks.
Some of the lawmakers said their vow to forgo pay was good only for as long as the shutdown lasted. When the shutdown ended after 16 days, they said, they had done their jobs and were entitled to their money.
Others among the nearly 250 who forsook their salaries said congressional approval of back pay for all federal workers, including the hundreds of thousands who were furloughed, meant lawmakers should be paid, too.
David Williams, president of the Taxpayers Protection Alliance, said members of Congress are using technicalities to try to "wiggle out" of promises to the American people.
"People across the country, when they heard their member of Congress said they would be returning their pay during shutdown, that's what they heard and what they expected," Mr. Williams said. "For Congress to even try to backtrack on that just reduces the amount of trust people have in Congress, if that's even possible."
Members of Congress, who make $174,000 a year, were paid Sept. 30 and Oct. 30, so even those who said they were rejecting their salaries never missed a check because the shutdown lasted from Oct. 1 through Oct. 16.
Under federal law, members of Congress must be paid during shutdowns. The Treasury therefore gave full paychecks to every lawmaker. It was up to each member of Congress to accept the pay, send the check back to the Treasury or donate the money to charity.
Rep. Duncan Hunter, a California Republican who voted against the House bill to reopen the government, received his full paycheck once the government was back up and running.
"Mr. Hunter said he was suspending his paycheck until full operations resumed. So he would receive his paycheck as will federal workers," a spokesman for the California Republican said.
Rep. Luke Messer, Indiana Republican, said he would defer his paycheck if the shutdown lasted through the pay period that ended Oct. 30, a spokeswoman said. Because the shutdown ended before then, he kept his full paycheck.
Sen. Mary L. Landrieu, Louisiana Democrat, vowed to donate her salary to charity if all federal workers didn't get back pay after the shutdown. A spokesman said that because federal workers did get paid, the senator is collecting her own check.
A few did make good on their promises. Sen. Michael B. Enzi, Wyoming Republican, sent a check for $7,733.33 to the financial clerk of the U.S. Senate on Nov. 4 to make up for his pay during the shutdown.
Sen. Al Franken, Minnesota Democrat, donated his pay to Second Harvest Heartland, a hunger relief charity in Minnesota, and Rep. Tom Cotton, Arkansas Republican, donated to two Arkansas-based charities and the Breast Cancer Research Foundation.
Among those who returned shutdown pay to the Treasury were Sen. Ron Johnson, Wisconsin Republican, on Oct. 18 and Rep. Stevan Pearce, New Mexico Republican, on Oct. 22.
"The shutdown impacted Americans, and it is wrong for members of Congress to receive a paycheck while other government employees faced uncertainty," Mr. Pearce wrote in a statement. "In returning my pay I have requested that the Treasury apply the full amount to the national debt."
For those who did give up pay, reactions online were a mix of respect for following through on a promise and shock at how much money members of Congress make in two weeks.
On Rep. K. Michael Conaway's Facebook page, one commenter wrote that "a lot of folks live on that kind of money for a whole YEAR!!" after the Texas Republican posted a photo of a check sent Oct. 23 to the Treasury in the amount of $7,734.
Mr. Williams, however, said, "It's really not about the money, it's about the symbolism and whether or not Congress follows through on its promises. Whether it's $7,000 or $7 billion, people want to see Congress is serious about these things."
Read more: http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2013/nov/7/shutdown-letdown-lawmakers-renege-on-pay-pledge-ke/#ixzz2k96MhgFY
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