Graham is on a growing list of lawmakers who plan to refund or donate their pay during the government shutdown, which congressional leaders warn could last several weeks. Most say their decision is a matter of fairness and an opportunity to show solidarity with hundreds of thousands of government employees sidelined without pay by the government shutdown. But the speed and enthusiasm with which some lawmakers advertised their decision appeared designed to blunt public outrage over the impasse.
As the House passed short-term spending bills and the Senate swiftly rejected them Monday night, some members began announcing their plans to participate in the pain. As the House on Tuesday and Wednesday continued passing short-term spending bills destined for failure in the Democratic-controlled Senate, even more lawmakers joined the fray.
Rep. Rob Wittman (R-Va.) said via Twitter that he’d decline his pay “for every day the government is shut down,” while Rep. Brad Schneider (D-Ill.) said he would return his compensation “until Congress finds a sensible solution to this harmful shutdown.”
Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) said her pay would go to a charity in her home state, because “right now, federal workers across North Dakota and the country who chose to work in public service have been forced to go without pay — including my Senate staff.”Rep. Brad Wenstrup (R-Ohio) also plans to donate his pay to wounded warriors and Cincinnati’s Freestore Foodbank. “I can’t accept a salary while veterans and government employees are left empty-handed. It’s not appropriate and it’s not fair,” he said in a statement.
A spokesman for the Wounded Warrior Project said the group is grateful for the impending congressional donations but “most importantly, we hope for an immediate resolution to the budget and debt-ceiling debates.”
The Washington Post began publishing a list online Tuesday afternoon, and by Wednesday, at least 100 lawmakers had committed to parting with their pay. The partisan split was about even.
But donating a portion of one congressional salary during the shutdown may not be as simple and straightforward as it sounds. Even if a lawmaker decided to refuse his or her pay, the compensation is considered mandatory spending in the federal budget, and the Constitution requires that House and Senate lawmakers’ pay cannot be altered until the start of a new term.
So lawmakers will face a choice: They can continue receiving their pay and then write checks to the U.S. Treasury or their favorite charity, or they can opt to have their pay withheld and placed in escrow for the duration of the shutdown. If the shutdown continues beyond the current two-week pay period, House and Senate administrative offices will hold on to the funds and distribute them after the impasse, leaving it up to the lawmaker to decide what to do.