Obama, lawmakers may lose own paychecks in government shutdown

March 2, 2011

President Barack Obama and members of Congress may soon have added incentive to reach a budget deal and avert a possible government shutdown: their own six-figure salaries.

OBAMA-SPEECH/The Democratic-led Senate unanimously passed a bill on late Tuesday to deny pay to the president and U.S. lawmakers during government shutdowns. The measure now goes to the Republican-led House for final congressional approval, which would clear the way for Obama to sign it into law.

“If we fail to keep the government operating, which is our basic responsibility, then we don’t deserve a paycheck,” said Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer, a chief sponsor of the bill.

The stakes in the budget showdown are sky high. And they would be even higher for Washington power brokers if the Boxer bill becomes law.

Obama’s annual pay is $400,000. Most members of Congress receive $174,000 a year, while House Speaker John Boehner gets $223,500 and the Republican and Democratic leaders in both chambers receive $193,400.

Under existing law, Obama and lawmakers would continue to be paid during a shutdown while hundreds of thousands of federal workers could be furloughed without pay.

The president and members of Congress are currently treated differently from millions of other federal employees because they are paid through mandatory spending required by law rather than through the annual appropriations process.

The Senate bill would change that. It says they “shall not receive basic pay for any period in which there is more than a 24 hour lapse in appropriations for any federal agency or department as a result of a failure to enact a regular appropriations bill or continuing resolution or if the federal government is unable to make payments or meet obligations because the debt limit has been reached.”

House and Senate leaders averted a shutdown this weekend by agreeing to a two-week spending bill that will keep the government funded through March 18 with $4 billion in cuts.

Obama and congressional leaders are now searching for common ground to keep the government funded through the rest of this fiscal year, which ends on Sept. 30.

House Republicans have proposed $61 billion in cuts. But Democrats object, calling the recommended reductions in a variety of federal programs “draconian.”

Democratic Senator Bob Casey, who joined Boxer as a chief sponsor of her shutdown-pay bill, said their measure should turn up the heat and send a clear message to all.

“This is an important step for fairness,” Casey said.

Photo credit: Reuters/Jim Young (Obama looks at Boehner during State of the Union address, Jan. 25)

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