“Essential” Government Employees Being Paid During Government Shutdown

As the shutdown of our government continues, now on its ninth day since congress failed to pass a budget on September 1st, 2013. Eight-hundred thousand federal workers have been furloughed, and the economic repercussions are still unknown, mostly depending on how long this shutdown lasts.

During the shutdown what our government calls, “non-essential” services are no longer funded. There are also “essential” government jobs that will be affected, like active duty servicemen, Department of Labor mine inspectors, and Secret Service agents but most will not receive pay. The constitution dictates that certain people must be paid, even during a shutdown.

As it stands our president and our legislators in the house and senate will still be receiving their paychecks. Congress’s salaries fall under what is called “mandatory funds”. Their paychecks do not fall under the umbrella of discretionary spending that is affected by an un-passed budget.

It has raised some eyebrows and created a few headlines as to why the Congress and President are paid when they are the ones who have resulted in the government shutdown.

As of Friday, September 27, one hundred and forty-four members of Congress have decided to give or refuse to take their earnings during the shutdown.

Questions of motive and ingenuousness followed congressional announcements of what they would do with their pay. Are they just making a political move or is this an honest decision that congress feels will relieve the burden of the government shutdown off the American people.

Professor of Communications, Dr. Michael Phillips-Anderson, said that it is a ploy that they think will help them. “The amount [of congressmen] are returning makes no difference in the federal budget, but it is symbolic communication that might be effective with people who already agree with them (and that is mostly what they are concerned about since most members of Congress are easily reelected.”

Dr. Joseph Patten, Chair of the Political Science and Socilogy Department commented,  “The chief problem is we don’t have competition in House elections because congressional districts are gerrymandered to ensure electoral victory for candidates from one political party or the other.  Having political parties draw congressional districts is an obvious conflict of interest and serves to subvert the best principles associated with American democracy.” 

Phillips-Anderson continued, “It could also backfire if federal workers see it as disingenuous and not really a sacrifice. Missing a paycheck is a smaller deal if you make $174,000, than if you make $40,000.”

Phillips Anderson added, “If I were their opponent in an upcoming election, I would ask why they don’t donate more back to the Treasury if they can afford to.”

The symbolism expressed through the Congress representatives donations could be taken different ways depending on how you look at it. In this instance party lines seem not to make any difference.

For example Republican Representative, Andy Barr from Kentucky posted Tuesday on Facebook, “as a result of partisan bickering and gridlock, I will be donating my salary for the duration of the government shutdown to local charities until the Senate and President agree to negotiate with the House and…reopen the government.”

Across the aisle Democrat Representative, Ami Bera will decline his pay because “Congress should lead by example and put people before politics,” he said in a statement.

“If Congress can’t do its job and put the American people first, then they certainly shouldn’t get paid during a crisis that they are causing.” He also we must stop finger pointing and act like adults.

Some congress people are choosing to give their salaries to charities others will just not take it. This nibble, out of their salaries wont effect the economy. Will it have a substantial political effect and what does it mean politically?

Patten continued, “We now have mostly single party districts that are represented by members from the extreme wings of both parties.  About thirty years ago forty percent of House members were politically moderate, today only 10  percent are classified as moderates. My hope is that the U.S. Supreme Court will reverse course and declare partisan gerrymandering unconstitutional.”

“We typically associate nintey-five percent reelection rates with political systems in places like Iran, it’s horrifying to know it exists in our U.S. House of Representatives,” Patten said.

As Monmouth students await for the upcoming elections there is so much to think about. Ed Hunt, biology major at the University said, “The current situation in the government leaves a lot of students feeling helpless in the voting booth, it leaves us asking what exactly can we do to get positive change in [our government].”

The shutdown and actions of lawmakers have put many at odds. On October 16, NJ will have its general election for the Senate, and in November we have the gubernatorial and state assembly election. As votes are casted across this country, we will see exactly what effects the lawmaker’s decisions have.

Patten stated, “[The shutdown is] embarrassing and another sign that Congress is our broken branch of government.”