Lee Terry says he 'cannot handle' giving up own paycheck during shutdown - Omaha.com
Published Saturday, October 5, 2013 at 1:00 am / Updated at 1:03 pm
Lee Terry says he 'cannot handle' giving up own paycheck during shutdown

Updated, 6:10 p.m. with comments from Terry's office.

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WASHINGTON — Many government workers not being paid right now are worried about how to make ends meet if the shutdown drags on.

But one category of federal employees enjoys guaranteed pay: members of Congress.

Those 535 members of the House and Senate have their salaries enshrined in the Constitution.

That makes it “mandatory spending.” In other words, no mere shutdown is going to stop their checks.

The notion that those responsible for the shutdown continue to draw pay — $174,000 a year for rank-and-file members — clearly rankles many of their constituents.

“It's a real shame that the salaries for members of Congress continue to be paid after they voted to stop pay for other government workers,” Rick Madej of Omaha recently wrote in the Public Pulse.

In an online post Wednesday, Rep. Tom Latham, R-Iowa, wrote that he had taken many calls from Iowans questioning why members are paid while furloughed Americans go without.

“I couldn't agree more,” Latham wrote.

He wrote that he was declining his pay until the shutdown ends and has introduced legislation to eliminate pay for members of Congress and the president during any shutdown.

The legislation also would prohibit them from receiving retroactive pay for that period.

“It's only fair and in the end this debate is about fairness and common sense,” Latham wrote. “Fairness for members of Congress to have their pay withheld just like others are experiencing.”

Latham isn't alone. At least 123 members of the House and Senate are donating or refusing their pay during the shutdown, according to a list published by the Washington Post.

Lawmakers can turn over their checks to charity or have them withheld and placed in escrow until the shutdown ends.

Rep. Lee Terry, R-Neb., was blunt when asked if he would continue collecting his paychecks during the shutdown.

“Dang straight,” he said.

Terry suggested it's an irrelevant question because the situation would be resolved before long.

What about the other members who were donating or forgoing their pay?

“Whatever gets them good press,” Terry said. “That's all that it's going to be. God bless them. But you know what? I've got a nice house and a kid in college, and I'll tell you we cannot handle it. Giving our paycheck away when you still worked and earned it? That's just not going to fly.”

He acknowledged that many federal employees aren't getting paid because of the shutdown.

“We're fighting to get them back to work. That's the real issue, is getting this thing done,” Terry said. “I'm working with leadership. I'm trying to figure out ways to get this done.”

He also said that civilian workers furloughed from U.S. Strategic Command or the 55th Wing should not be going without pay. He said legislation signed by the president provides for their pay, and that the administration is violating the law in furloughing them.

“That is one of the most vicious games I've seen,” Terry said. “Those people were protected by law, and they're still being furloughed.”

Rep. Adrian Smith, R-Neb., told The World-Herald he has asked the government to hold his paychecks during the shutdown, and cited the congressional aides who have been furloughed.

“I'm trying to be consistent with my own office policy,” Smith said.

Other lawmakers from Iowa and Nebraska felt differently.

“I think that's a gimmick,” Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., said when asked about members forgoing or donating pay during the shutdown. “I think it's theatrics. It doesn't do anything to solve the problem, and if you have followed my public service career, you will know that I don't do gimmicks.”

Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, also expressed no plans to give up his salary.

“We're coming to work, though, so as long as we're working, we ought to get paid,” Harkin said.

He said, however, that he feels sorry for congressional aides who aren't being paid. He said he has heard stories of aides borrowing money to make car payments and house payments.

“That's just a shame,” Harkin said.

Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb., said in a statement that the situation is frustrating but that he wouldn't be giving up his pay.

“Many individuals and families are facing hardships due to this shutdown,” he said in the statement. “Feel-good gestures will not solve the problem. We will keep working toward a solution.”

And Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, indicated he'll continue to collect his pay.

“I'm working,” Grassley said. “Anybody else who is in my office is being paid if they're working.”

Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, said he's still figuring out the implications of the shutdown and hasn't decided whether to continue collecting his pay or not.

A spokesman for Sen. Mike Johanns, R-Neb., said the senator already donates more to charity per year than he would earn during the shutdown.

Terry responds after comments gain momentum

A spokesman for Rep. Lee Terry, R-Neb., issued a statement Friday after comments that he made to The World-Herald about congressional pay during the government shutdown went viral.

Democrats were sharply critical of Terry's statements that he would not give up his paycheck because he and his family needed the money, citing his house payments and his son's college tuition.

His comments garnered attention from national news organizations.

“Congressman Terry has been working tirelessly to keep the government open and ensure that Nebraska families don't suffer," spokesman Larry Farnsworth said in the statement. "The only people who have voted to shut down the government are House Democrats who value political grandstanding over supporting important nonpartisan issues like our veterans, our National Guard and medical research. It's time for Democrats to come to the table and work toward a commonsense solution.”

Contact the writer: Joseph Morton

joe.morton@owh.com    |  

Joe is The World-Herald's Washington, D.C., bureau, covering national political developments that matter most to Midlanders.

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