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Why Does Congress Still Get Paid in a Government Shutdown?

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Why Does Congress Still Get Paid in a Government Shutdown?

In a great opinion piece yesterday, journalist Nicholas Kristof observes that in the case of a U.S. Government shutdown tomorrow, where many thousands of federal workers will not get their paychecks, members of the U.S. Congress will continue getting paid as normal.

Kristof explains that the reason for this is twofold, but also reminds us that repeated attempts to remedy this situation have failed:

“That’s partly because Congressional pay is not subject to the regular appropriations process, and partly because of Constitutional concerns. The Senate passed a bill proposed by Barbara Boxer of California that would suspend Congressional paychecks in any government shutdown, but the Republican-controlled House has blocked it. House Republicans approved a similar pay suspension, but it was embedded in legislation that has zero chance of becoming law.”

It seems morally repugnant to think that federal workers that do work most people would agree is far more important than the work of a politician – such as managing public welfare programs or working in areas of wildlife and natural resource management – will lose income, while members of congress continue to receive a salary upwards of $174,000 annually.

The Tragedy of a Shutdown

The tragedy of this situation is that many of these federal workers are likely one or two paychecks away from bankruptcy or defaulting on their mortgages. Playing with the lives of these already-underpaid federal workers is a political pawn that Congress should be absolutely ashamed of using.

As Kristof points out, if the shutdown plays out, it will serve as fodder for foreign governments to use as an argument that the American system of government is flawed – what Kristof calls a “powerful argument for autocracy.” Paying Congress during a desperate government shutdown caused by Congress not only sends a very bad message to the American people, but it sends an even worse message to the world about the leaders of the United States and the situation of the people they supposedly “serve.”

Kristof writes, tongue-in-cheek:

“If a high school student council refused to approve a budget so that student activities had to be canceled — even as student leaders continued to pay themselves stipends — a school board would probably cancel the entire experiment in student democracy. But I can’t imagine high school students acting so immature.”

Is the Problem Really All About Spending?

While it is a simple enough argument to say that to spark the recovery of the U.S. economy, then spending must be cut drastically across the board, economically that isn’t always necessarily true.

Cutting funding leads to less income for even more U.S. citizens that work for the government, leading to less spending, additional debt defaults, and a continuation of the downward spiral.

However, as any real estate investor will tell you, people that are financially smart do the opposite of what everyone else is doing. In a poor economy, while people are selling things off cheaply, it’s time to start spending more and buying more. In a wealthy economy, when money is rolling in hand-over-fist, it’s time to spend less and start socking away the money.

Obviously the government failed to cut the budget when they should have, when times were good – but it would be doubly tragic at this point if Congress made huge spending slashes across the board.

As Kristof points out:

“But one of the most basic principles of economics is that when an economy is anemic, governments should use deficit spending as a fiscal stimulus, even though that means an increase in debt. If Senator Rubio believes that the response to a weak economy is to slash spending, he is embracing the approach that Herbert Hoover discredited 80 years ago.”

He describes the appropriate solution as “short term stimulus combined with long-term trims.”

Government Shutdown as a Catalyst for Crisis

A government shutdown negatively affects the very areas of the U.S. economy that continue to keep it afloat. People would miss their house payments, the IRS would struggle getting refund checks back into the hands of people who would spend that money, small businesses would lose government loan income – all for the purpose of a short term political stunt in order to win the battle over the budget.

My suggestion and warning to the general public is to keep a close eye on what Congress does over the next 24 hours.

If the United States is forced into a government shutdown by Congress on Friday, I propose that it will be the very beginning of a perfect storm – coming from the American people they claim to serve – the likes of which I doubt members of Congress will ever suspect is coming. But by then, it will be too late to do anything about it.

Originally published on

  • What about the military? They are federal government too…

  • RandomDude

    I agree with Rona

  • Anonymous

    That could very well be an issue…tomorrow will be an interesting day, that’s for sure!

  • Mike

    I am in the military and very much upset that Congress gets paid while members in the military are not. I’ve been in combat zones. Your head has to be screwed on straight. If you are worried about your family not being able to pay the mortgage or other bills how can they expect anyone concentrate and focus? I’m not currently in a combat zone and would gladly allow them to hold my check IF they would just pay our men and women in those combat zones!

  • Anonymous

    Hey Mike – thanks for your reply and I agree with you 100%. At the very least and above all else, they have to ensure that the troops in combat see no break in income. It’s the very least we can do for those that are sacrificing so much for this country. Thanks again for your comment.

  • My fiancée is in the Navy and he’s losing sleep worrying about this, but he too, I believe mostly cares about the military at least being able to fight and/or protect with a clear head about what’s going on at home.

  • Jay

    What does it matter if your in a combat zone or not? Those that have served in a combat zone before would agree that, those who need to be paid first would be those who has served in any theater at all get paid first…but here is my problem. I don’t understand why I can’t reenlist a high quality soldier. But the government would rather spend 100,000$ in the end to train a NEW soldier to replace him in the same MOS… especially when these soldiers would rather remain a E-4, then change MOS to remain in the army… WTF, Now that the army has recruited what i would say is… 3/10 soldiers that end of getting chartered out. Let me keep my good ones. they understand what it means… that they may stay at a lower skill level because of the army needs, but they do, and exceed the standard of which is required of them.

    Why does my Battalion spend 12.8 billions dollars to send me(our battalion) to NTC to see whether or not my company commander can successfully manage the troops within his control between guard, missions, and QRF…Thats our problems, lets focus on Home Station Training..and not waste or time….

    or leave it up to ITC “Iraq Training Center”

    Oh, and if I can’t get paid… i hope i get orders even sooner to deploy again so at least i can eat

  • Anonymous

    Well – for what it’s worth I don’t think it would be appropriate if ANY of you guys can’t get paid. Congress needs to get their act together and sort this out now – not paying anyone presently serving is completely unacceptable.

  • Caroldombkowski

    Why is it that as a Nation we are encouraged to follow blindly all the truths given to us . We should be a Nation ,a Country that sets an example to others .The example we are now showing and have been for many years is miss management , greed etc. Are we and our Leaders disconnected form the reality of what is taking place in our Country ?Have we all forgotten cause and effect .
    We are a great Country what is happening to us?

  • bunak

    maybe we should han everything back to the indigineous natives and gb2europe

  • Djacoastie

    The current President is about to finalize his mission. DestroyAmerica. And get this..he is raking in all kinds of $$$ for re election! How DUMB can we get!!!

  • Notsanta

    When I asked Our Senator why he gets paid when My husband and I as US Navy Disabled Veterans do not (during a budget crisis) he replied that he was a “constitutional employee not a governement employee”.  What a crock.

  • Anonymous

    Notsanta – thanks for the comment and letting us know what you heard back. That really is pretty sad!

  • anon

    If this happens, you’ll have to stand in line to rob the bank.

  • anonymous

    I agree with the sentiment.  but I don’t agree with the conclusion.  You didn’t sign up so you could be subject to the whims of a congress that made a deal with you to use you for their wars (rather,the executive wars since they abdicated a long time ago on using their mandate to declare war)–but they made a deal a long time ago and now decide to reneg on it.  That’s the definition of “deadbeat” and I don’t believe you went to work for them thinking you were working for deadbeats.  I am a disabled Vietnam vet, and if I’d had the disability check for the 40 years since, I’d be ok with losing some, but it took all of that 40 years for the VA to recognize it.  Now that I’ve had a relatively decent standard of living for the last six months since they finally saw the situation in the right light (agent orange)–they want to pull it, and Coburn wants to make all of us “prove” the disabilities, all of them, cancer, diabetes, heart disease and more, were actually related to having poison dumped on us.  So it fits that they want to welsh on their debts.  This is the weirdest congress ever and they don’t deserve their jobs if this is what they think of as responsible government.

  • vet

    No, you guys are far too forgiving.  The military isn’t a deal where once they’re done with you they don’t pay you and don’t take care of you.  If this country can afford to OBLIGATE trillions for unnecessary wars, they can damn sure afford to pay those who manage to return, take care of those who are hurt, pay retirement and disability benefits–just like the law (that congress passed, not coincidentally) specifies.

    Note that when we break even the simplest laws, we go to the slammer for unspecified periods of time and are treated like dirt.  Note that when congress, the executive branch and everybody else in government (except military, of course) break the law–they pass a new law. 

“The thing about the truth is, not a lot of people can handle it.” -Conor McGregor

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