As the federal government faces a partial shutdown, critics have noted that President Donald Trump and the lawmakers on Capitol Hill who helped get the country in this predicament are still collecting paychecks.
So why are Congress and the president getting paid when so many other federal workers are being asked to go without?
Incoming freshman congresswoman and self-described Democratic-socialist Alexandria Ocasio Cortez – who has already become an outspoken critic of congressional pay – said in a tweet last week that the next time the government shuts down, "Congressional salaries should be furloughed as well."
"It’s completely unacceptable that members of Congress can force a government shutdown on partisan lines & then have Congressional salaries exempt from that decision," she tweeted. "Have some integrity."
Putting her proposal into practice, though, would require clearing some major hurdles, including congressional gridlock the U.S. Constitution.
According to the Constitution, Congress is required to set its own salaries to be paid by the Treasury. Those salaries are outlined in a law separate from the appropriations legislation. So, even though the shutdown is caused by the failure to cut a deal on the unfunded appropriations, Congress continues to be paid under an entirely different bill.
And the 27th Amendment says Congress can't pass any law affecting its pay for the current term. Since it seems highly unlikely the current Congress would pass such a law before Jan.3, it would be up to the new crop of lawmakers who will be sworn in next week to change the rules. And even that wouldn't be able to take effect until 2020 at the earliest.
Similarly, Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution says Congress can't change the president's compensation during his or her term of office. "Thus effectively guaranteeing the President of compensation regardless of any shutdown action," summarized a Congressional Research Service report.
While Congress members get paid during a shutdown, the same is not necessarily true of their staff, according to CRS. But in this shutdown that won't be a concern because the appropriations for the legislative branch were already approved in the 2019 spending bill.
Lawmakers have repeatedly tried to pass legislation that would freeze Congressional pay in the event of a shutdown, but such a bill has yet to pass both chambers of Congress. For example, Rep. Tom O'Halleran, D-Ariz., introduced the Government Shutdown Accountability and Economic Report Act in April 2017, but the bill has gone nowhere since then. O'Halleran has vowed to forgo his pay during the shutdown.
The Senate passed a bill in 2011 to freeze congressional pay, and the pay for the president, during a shutdown but that bill died in the House.
Since they can't freeze their pay, many members of Congress have tried to escape the optics of getting paid while other federal workers struggle by donating their salaries to charity or refusing to take the pay. A total of 248 lawmakers from both parties did so during the 2013 shutdown, according to a list compiled by The Washington Post.