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Congress still gets paid -- it's in the Constitution

By Lisa Desjardins, CNN Capitol Hill reporter
October 2, 2013 -- Updated 1924 GMT (0324 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Some in Congress say they're planning on giving their pay to charity during shutdown
  • Thousands of federal workers have been furloughed and will lose pay in the shutdown
  • Members of Congress will still get paid, as mandated by the 27th Amendment
  • Some lawmakers say they will give their paychecks to the Treasury or to charity

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Washington (CNN) -- In an extended shutdown, most of the federal workforce would go without pay, but the checks will keep coming to the 533 current members of Congress.

Who gets paid in a shutdown and who doesn't?

"That is disgraceful in my view," said freshman Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, told CNN. "Basically the only people who get paid in a shutdown are members of Congress, and that is irresponsible."

Gabbard plans to send any pay she receives during a shutdown back to the Treasury. The combat veteran said she was shocked to find out recently that members' pay is protected.

It is -- by the Constitution.

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The 27th Amendment to the Constitution restricts any Congress from changing its own pay. The measure was proposed in the first days of the Republic but was not ratified until 1992, after a grass-roots movement promoted the idea and the necessary number of state legislatures approved it.

While many may have wanted to restrain Congress from increasing its pay, the amendment also blocks Congress from freezing or cutting its compensation.

The result? Congress gets paid no matter what. Gabbard is not the only member surprised.

Rep. DeSantis: Don't pay me
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"I don't even know whether it stops or not," Rep. John Fleming, R-Louisiana, said when asked about his pay during a shutdown.

When told that the Constitution mandates congressional paychecks stay as-is, Fleming responded that he hadn't thought through what he would do yet but would likely donate his pay during a shutdown to charity.

"Obviously we need to share the pain of the American people," he concluded.

The offices for the top two members of Congress -- House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid -- wouldn't respond to specifics about their pay.

According to a report by the Lexington Herald-Leader newspaper, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, plans to donate his salary to charity during the shutdown.

Rep. Pete Gallego, D-Texas, told CNN he is urging his fellow members of Congress to donate their pay to charitable causes.

"I don't think we should get paid until (the shutdown) is resolved," Rep. Pete DeSantis, R-Fla, told CNN's Jake Tapper on Tuesday. "I've asked the clerk to withhold any pay for me until we get this up and running. I just think that that's fair for the folks involved who've been negatively affected by this."

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Maryland, disagreed with DeSantis. "I think that's another game (House Republicans) want to play, appealing to a demagogic approach to this," Hoyer told Tapper on Tuesday.

Shutdown 'extremely damaging' to U.S. intelligence operations

"Members of Congress ought to be on the job working hard," Hoyer added, "getting this job done to the American people, getting their government opened, getting federal employees back to work and serving the public, serving the growth of our economy, serving our national security ends."

While members will get paid, they must decide which of their own office staff have to go home.

Members of Congress run their own office payroll and will decide who is essential and non essential. But even congressional staff members who work during a shutdown would not get paid until later -- only their bosses will get paid on time.

"My staffers are working with pay. Right now," Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Oklahoma, said Tuesday on "Crossfire."

"They're doing oversight on the federal government. ... They're continuing to work on the waste."

Coburn also said he's keeping his salary earned during the shutdown. "I'm going to keep my salary and going to make sure I spend it and tithe it and give to it charities and do the thing that I've always done. ... I'm not going to stop working."

But Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, who appeared alongside Coburn on "Crossfire" on Tuesday, is taking a different approach.

"Eighty percent of my staff, unfortunately, is on furlough," she said, "I'm going to be contributing [my salary] on a daily basis. For every day we are not seeing an open -- a government that's open, I'm contributing."

Americans hurt as DC 'squabbles like kids'

CNN's Athena Jones, Tasha Diakides, and Martina Stewart contributed to this report.

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