What will Al Franken be paid this year?

Answers to your questions about the news.
July 7 2009 4:05 PM

If Senators Play Hooky, Do They Still Get Paid?

The ins and outs of government salaries.

Al Franken.
Sen. Al Franken

Al Franken was finally sworn into the U.S. Senate on Tuesday—185 days late. Meanwhile, Sens. Edward Kennedy and Robert Byrd have been too sick to attend legislative sessions for much of this year. Do senators get paid for days they aren't in office?

It depends on why they're absent. Senators who are seated late, resign, or die before the term ends have their salaries prorated, based on the Senate Disbursing Office's formula, which breaks payments into 15-day periods. So Sen. Franken will make $84,100 this year instead of the usual amount for a rank-and-file senator: $174,000. Rules are comparable at the state level: Since Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin is resigning before her term ends, the Department of Administration will cut back her monthly salary installments. Her July check will be prorated to $8,904 from $10,416, to account for the five days she won't serve in that month.

As long as a senator or representative is technically in office, however, he can expect full pay no matter how often he plays hooky. There's no limit to medical leave for members of Congress, so Kennedy and Byrd will get their complete salaries—$193,400 for Byrd as Senate president pro tempore, and $174,000 for Kennedy. There's no vacation cap, either. Although an obscure statute, 2 U.S. Code 39, technically docks pay for members of Congress who miss votes without a good reason, it hasn't been invoked in decades, and the Senate portion was removed in 2006.

Bonus Explainer: How are senators paid? Like Senate and House staffers, they can choose between checks or direct deposit. They are paid on the fifth and 20th day of each month.

Got a question about today's news? Ask the Explainer.

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