Lawmakers Grapple With Whether to Accept Pay

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Oct. 12 2013 12:50 PM

Lawmakers Grapple With Whether to Accept Pay During Shutdown

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Rep. Lee Terry got lots of negative press when he said he would accept his paycheck. He later backtracked

Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Hundreds of thousands of federal workers don’t have the luxury of a choice, but lawmakers do, and the choice isn’t always so simple. The Associated Press takes a look at the quandary lawmakers are facing these days on whether they should accept their salary. For some it’s a no-brainer—they have mouths to feed, after all. But many of them quickly backtracked on what seemed like an obvious choice once they realized just how angry their constituents got, not to mention what great fodder the issue is for local news. "You're caught between the needs of your family and your need to get re-elected," former Rep. Vic Fazio, a Democrat from California, said.

Rep. Lee Terry, a Republican from Nebraska, for example, thought the whole idea of not getting paid was ludicrous. “You know what? I've got a nice house and a kid in college, and I'll tell you we cannot handle it,” he recently told the Omaha World-Herald. “Giving our paycheck away when you still worked and earned it? That's just not going to fly.” A few days later, he backtracked, saying he was “ashamed” of his comments.

Members of Congress can’t technically withhold their own salary, but they can request that their paychecks be delayed until the government opens. Or donate it to charity. The Washington Post has been keeping tabs on which members of Congress are refusing to accept pay. As of Thursday, at least 248 lawmakers have said they plan to defer or donate their paycheck. Neither President Obama nor Vice President Biden have said what they’re going to do with their cash.

Daniel Politi has been contributing to Slate since 2004 and wrote the "Today's Papers" column from 2006 to 2009. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoliti.