Lawmakers say they'd take pay cut, but they can't

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Story highlights

  • Members of Congress also preparing for potential sharp cuts in federal spending
  • But lawmakers will not see any change to their annual salary of $174,000
  • Some staff let go, office budgets reduced with sequester looming

Pain from forced spending cuts is a week away and lawmakers are preparing their aides for the fallout that could hit them like other government workers.

"We've actually budgeted with a 10% cut in mind," Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-Illinois, said last week.

Rep. Dennis Ross, R-Florida, reorganized his office in December.

"We had to let people go then because we were anticipating at least a 16% cut," he said.

Pentagon: Furloughs for civilian workers if forced cuts go into effect

But members of Congress, the very people who voted to put the automatic spending cuts in place, won't see any change to their annual salary of $174,000.

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Forced time off with no pay
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Why?

Because Congress can change its pay only by passing a law to do so.

Before Congress left town for a week's recess, CNN took an informal survey and asked lawmakers whether they were willing to take a pay cut if the so-called sequester was set in motion on March 1.

Most lawmakers in both parties said yes.

"Well, certainly. I mean, we're all in this together. We're all suffering together," said Mark Meadows, R-North Carolina.

"Absolutely. Let's make sure that we're doing our part as well," said Rep. Ben Lujan, D-New Mexico.

"Oh, sure. Yeah, I mean, that's called leadership," responded Rep. Steve Southerland, R-Florida.

But cutting lawmaker pay isn't so easy. The 27th Amendment prohibits members of Congress from changing their compensation until after the next election.

Still, they can get creative by writing checks to charity or the U.S. Treasury.

Ironically, some tea party-backed lawmakers who campaigned on slashing federal spending are reluctant to give up their pay.

Poll: Deficit is essential issue for Congress to tackle

Rep. Billy Long, R-Missouri, was elected in 2010 to cut Washington spending.

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"Do you think members of Congress should take a pay cut?" CNN asked.

"I don't think so," he responded. "I mean, I don't think we should raise our pay."

But what about the fact that congressional aides may be furloughed?

"It's such a miniscule part," Long said.

Former presidential candidate Michele Bachmann answered the question about whether she personally would take a pay cut -- asked several times -- by talking only about her staff.

"We'd like to keep everybody on the payroll if we can, but they'll have to work fewer hours. So, we're looking at reductions in our staff, and that's what we need to do," said the Minnesota Republican.

CNNMoney: Biggest problems with forced budget cuts

Two members of Congress returned part of their office budgets to the Treasury this week.

Standing in front of an oversized check for $600,000 -- or 20% of his budget -- Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, said his office treated funds "like it's our money, or your money, and we look at every expenditure."

Rand Paul returns more money to Treasury

Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R-South Carolina, said he would return $160,000 to the federal government, or 12% of his office budget.

One of the biggest opponents of Congress cutting its pay is one of the wealthiest, Nancy Pelosi.

The House Democratic leader says she knows other members of Congress are not as financially fortunate.

"Most of my colleagues are the breadwinners in their families, said Pelosi. "A pay cut, to me, doesn't mean as much."

CNNMoney: Federal worker furloughs could start in April

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