Sen. Manchin calls for no shutdown pay for Congress


Members of Congress would continue to receive paychecks during a shutdown. (Andrew Harrer/BLOOMBERG)

But the members of that fine body? Their paychecks will keep flowing as usual, even though they’re the ones who can’t seem to muster up the leadership to find a resolution to the budget impasse.

A few members, however, are suggesting lawmakers should not be paid in the event of a shutdown. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) proposed a bill, approved unanimously, that said salary payments would be prohibited to Congress and the president if a shutdown occurred. It went nowhere in the House. Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner (Ohio) said on ABC News that members of Congress should not be paid during a shutdown, “just as federal workers should not be paid.” And now, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W. Va.) is pledging, and calling upon his colleagues, to give up salary until the shutdown is over. He intends to either give his away to charity or return it to the Treasury.

The decision for leaders to pass up pay when they ask those who work for them to do the same is such a basic management idea that even CEOs for corporations follow it. During the depths of the recession, when companies had to enact pay cuts on employees or trim benefits or bonuses, many CEOs declined their bonuses or even reduced their salaries. In 2008, FedEx CEO Fred Smith took a 20 percent salary cut, while employees were asked to give up between 5 and 10 percent. The same year, JetBlue CEO David Barger cut his base salary in half, from $500,000 to $250,000, as the airline struggled through a tough economy. When Japan Airlines hit hard times in 2009, the CEO started paying himself less than his pilots earned and cut all his corporate perks.

Of course, everything’s relative, and a 20 percent cut in salary for a CEO who’s still making a fat multi-million dollar bonus is hardly going to cause a lot of pain. Still, it’s a symbolic gesture that counts, and goes a long way toward instilling a sense that everyone’s suffering some together. Passing up a couple weeks of pay would surely hit Congress harder than your average CEO, but it’s not likely to hurt them as bad as the federal contractor suddenly out of income.

Giving up their salaries is essential, in my mind, for Congress to retain even a modicum of respect through this process. It is one of the most basic tenets of leadership: In a crisis, those at the top should sacrifice at least as much, if not more so, than those who work for them. That said, legislation shouldn’t be needed. A decent internal moral compass should be all any elected official needs to know they should be sharing in the sacrifice too.

More from On Leadership:

Complete leadership coverage of the shutdown

Fed employees: Working through uncertainty

John Boehner: A man in the middle

The true cost of a government shutdown

Discussion: Is a shutdown the image of inefficacy?

Jena McGregor writes a daily column analyzing leadership in the news for the Washington Post’s On Leadership section.

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