Politics, government and public life for Southern California

Shutdown: Why Congress still gets paid, and which Calif. lawmakers are declining pay

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The Capitol Police who responded to the errant driver who crashed White House and Capitol Hill barriers? Not getting paid. Neither are the 800,000 federal employees furloughed due to the government shutdown. But more than 500 federal employees are getting a paycheck: members of Congress. 

Before you get mad, you should know that you can blame it on James Madison. 

Back in 1789, then-Congressman Madison was worried about his fellow lawmakers beefing up their paychecks. He proposed a constitutional amendment that “no law, varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives, shall take effect, until an election of Representatives shall have intervened.”

What he wanted to stop was Congressional pay raises, not suspensions due to government shutdowns.

The proposal passed Congress, but a constitutional amendment also requires two-thirds of the nation's state legislatures to approve the idea. Amazingly, it took until 1992 to pass the 27th Amendment. And it was an enterprising University of Texas student who took a college assignment and turned it into a crusade.

More than a hundred lawmakers say they are refusing their paychecks or donating them to charity. According to a list compiled by The Washington Post, the list includes the following Californians:

  • Rep. Alan Lowenthal (D)
  • Rep. David Valadao (R-Hanford)
  • Rep. Raul Ruiz (D-Palm Springs)
  • Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D)
  • Sen. Barbara Boxer (D)
  • Rep. Julia Brownley (D-Ventura)
  • Rep. Ken Calvert (R-Corona)
  • Rep. Jim Costa (D-Fresno)
  • Rep. Ami Bera (D-Sacramento)
  • Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Vista)
  • Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield)
  • Rep. Scott Peters (D-San Diego)
  • Rep. Ed Royce (R-Fullerton)
  • Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Dublin)

Several lawmakers, including Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer of California, are working on legislation to prevent all of Congress from collecting a paycheck during a government shutdown or a default on the debt ceiling.

Its constitutionality is unclear, but a lawmaker would likely be the one to challenge it legally and it's hard to imagine a member of Congress standing up before the U.S. Supreme Court to argue for lawmakers pay.

Of course, if you're still mad, you can sign the online petition being circulated by the left-leaning Courage Campaign. About 200,000 people "demand that Members of Congress NOT get paid during a self-inflicted government shutdown." 

This story has been updated. 

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