Earlier today, Rep. French Hill sent a letter to the Chief Administrative Officer of the Capitol, stating that Hill wanted the pay he receives as a member of Congress withheld during the government shutdown.
That’s all well and good…as long as it’s merely the thought that counts. Because Article 1, section 6, clause 1 of the United States Constitution states (emphasis mine):
The Senators and Representatives shall receive a Compensation for their Services, to be ascertained by Law, and paid out of the Treasury of the United States.
Remember when Donald Trump was saying he would not accept payment of the Presidential salary, only to learn that he had to be paid per the Constitution? Yeah, same thing here; Hill literally is required by law to receive his pay.1
I have already seen some folks saying that the Constitution allows Congress to ask that their pay be withheld. I have no idea where this belief comes from; the Constitution is clear that they must be paid, though (I suppose) the lack of specified intervals for pay might provide some wiggle room. Regardless, “withhold my pay” is a damn sight different from not receiving the pay at all. At most, if he can have it withheld, Hill–who certainly doesn’t rely solely on the Congressional paycheck to make ends meet–is merely delaying when he will receive the same amount of money.
The government workers who are not able to work right now because of the shutdown won’t later receive the money they missed out on. So Hill and his ilk can cause this problem and they still must be paid, while regular government workers, through no fault of their own, are out of luck unless and until Hill and the rest actually govern.
But, hey…pointless gestures and grandstanding rather than doing the actual work of government is part of how we got into this mess in the first place, so this letter fits right in.
Let’s just not be too quick to give Hill credit for a completely meaningless gesture in the face of a problem that he helped cause.
Whether he was unaware of the Constitutional provision or was just hoping that everyone else was unaware is anyone’s guess, though I’d wager it was the latter.↩