Dems Say They Aren’t Refusing Their Pay During Shutdown Because It Would Be a 'Distraction'

The Capitol in Washington, D.C. Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

WASHINGTON – One Democratic congressman told PJM he’s not joining other members of Congress in declining a paycheck during the government shutdown because it would be a “distraction” if lawmakers weren’t paid as well.

So far, more than a dozen lawmakers have voluntarily declined their paychecks due to the ongoing shutdown. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.) has reintroduced the No Budget No Pay Act and announced that he would send his payment to the U.S. Treasury until the government reopens.

“I will not accept any pay during any government shutdown. I am not delaying my pay; I am sending it back to the United States Treasury. And I am urging all my colleagues, both Republican and Democrat, to do the same. Let’s send a message to the extreme partisans on both sides: do your job or don’t get paid,” Fitzpatrick said in a recent statement.

“That’s why I reintroduced my ‘No Budget, No Pay’ proposal to prevent members of Congress from being paid if Congress fails to pass a budget or allows a lapse in appropriations. This measure would dock pay for time without a budget as opposed to simply putting member salaries in escrow until end of term,” he added. “It requires complete forfeiture.”

Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) explained why he would not decline his paycheck during the shutdown.

“That’s an individual choice by a member of Congress but it’s also, frankly, a distraction from the real issue. We are not in the business of adding to the ranks of the unpaid. We’re in the business of getting everybody paid fairly,” Connolly said during a press conference today with other Democrats who urged Trump to reopen the government to alleviate the financial pain suffered by federal employees.

“This question gets asked, not only with respect to the shutdown, but shouldn’t you not be paid if you don’t pass a budget? Shouldn’t you not be paid if the DREAM Act isn’t passed? You know, go down your favorite list,” he added. “And the Constitution mandates it. We’re here doing our job. We’re here trying to reopen government. We respect individual choices but, frankly, we think that is a distraction from the issue here before us.”

Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) said he agrees with Connolly’s position on lawmakers continuing to accept pay during the government shutdown. Beyer added that members declining pay gives Trump “more leverage” in negotiations over funding for border security and the rest of the federal government.

“I respect the ones who give it up and I don’t criticize them at all, but I also think we have to think about how not every member of Congress is wealthy. There are quite a few members of Congress who are living paycheck-to-paycheck too and a lot of them – I’m easy, I live right here – but so many of them sleep on their couches because they can’t afford to maintain a family back in Texas or New York or California and also afford a place here. The ones that do have places here tend to be four to an apartment. So, I think we need to provide a little cover for the people who can’t do that,” Beyer said.

“Part two is that gives Trump more leverage. You basically get the members of Congress who say, ‘now I really have to do it because I don’t have any money’ – that doesn’t make sense. It’s almost giving away some negotiating power. It makes no difference to him – that whole question to him, ‘Can you relate?’ Give me a break. This is a guy who has never had to worry about anything financial since the day he was born,” he added.

Beyer said Trump must not have read his own book, The Art of the Deal, which he wrote with a ghostwriter. On the campaign trail, Trump often referenced the book and touted his ability as a dealmaker.

“But he’s not – what deal has he made in two years? Not one,” Beyer said. “He’s a bully and he wants it his way.”

Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-N.Y.) told PJM he would not join the lawmakers who are refusing their paychecks during the ongoing shutdown.

“Right now, no, I am not doing that,” Suozzi responded. “We should reopen the government. It’s unfair to the people whose lives are dependent on their paychecks to be going through this. It’s unsafe for America so that so many government agencies are not doing their work and it’s not just inconvenient, it’s unsafe in many instances. So let’s reopen the government and let’s make a deal once and for all to have comprehensive immigration reform that includes strong border security.”

Suozzi was asked if he supports the approach House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has proposed, which includes funding federal departments individually.

“Every department is important – we shouldn’t have them if they are not important. Even though you are not affecting by the inspections done by the Food and Drug Administration until a couple of month from now, there’s a lot of people that are getting hurt by this very badly,” Suozzi said. “Even though you are not affected by the people that are picking up the garbage at the national parks because you are not there yourself, that’s bad for the long term. There are a lot of things that are happening that are just bad things in people’s lives.”