Members declining paychecks and furloughing staff during a government shutdown might be inadvertently saving government jobs on Capitol Hill, especially if they do so last minute.
If Congress doesn’t pass a spending bill, a few dozen House Chief Administrative Office payroll employees would be on the clock Monday to process thousands of furloughs as well as Members’ requests to decline pay.
So, the more Members who decline pay, the more staff Members furlough and the longer they take to notify the CAO that they’re doing so, the more employees will be needed to process the paperwork next week.
“The staff is necessary for the orderly shutdown of operations. They will be processing furloughs and paying expenses incurred prior to April 8th at midnight,” CAO spokesman Dan Weiser said. “The number of workers will fluctuate as work is processed.”
Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) sent a letter to Members Friday vowing that if the government shuts down, he would return his paycheck to the Treasury Department.
Boehner didn’t suggest other Members should follow his lead, but pointed them in the right direction in case they want to.
“The Constitution does not bar individual members from refusing to accept their compensation for any time when a lapse in appropriations occurs,” he wrote. “Should you desire to have your compensation returned to the United States Treasury, you may do so and House Administration Committee can assist in executing your decision.”
But it’s not as simple as that.
The CAO has to process the request so it can be recorded in the House’s statement of disbursements, deposit the payroll check in the Members’ account, then withdraw it and send a check to the Treasury.
But the next Congressional paycheck isn’t slated to arrive until the first of May, so unless the potential shutdown drags on into unprecedented three-week territory, the CAO would just be processing the requests and would handle the transactions later.
Members like Rep. Michele Bachmann, meanwhile, can take solace in the fact that by donating their pay to charity, they would not create more government jobs. The Minnesota Republican said she would donate her pay during a shutdown to nonprofits helping military families, and that procedure can be handled within her own office.
Still, if Members’ lack of urgency about furloughs are any indication, the payroll department could have their hands full sorting out last-minute requests.
Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick said Friday that he plans to furlough half his staff in Washington, D.C., and his Pennsylvania district.
“I don’t know if the notices have been sent out yet, but we plan to do it,” the Republican said.
Other Members said they have not yet made a decision and could wait until the 11th hour to furlough staff, if they do at all.
“I’m still betting against the shutdown,” Rep. Chaka Fattah (D-Pa.) said.
“Don’t have a problem until they say we have a problem,” Science, Space and Technology Committee Chairman Ralph Hall (R-Texas) said.
Other Members said the number of staffers to call essential could be a moving target.
“Right not, what I’m doing is holding on to my staff, seeing what the weekend holds, then on Monday and Tuesday, if I can furlough without compromising my Constitutional duties, we can do that,” Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.) said.
That strategy, as well as its inverse, is kosher with the House Administration Committee, spokeswoman Salley Wood said.
“Somebody deemed nonessential today can actually be deemed essential tomorrow,” Wood said. “Managers can get in touch with employees to notify them of their furlough status.”
Of course, when the work dries up, so would the jobs. As less furloughs and requests need processing, the CAO would commence furloughing more of its own payroll employees.
And like every other government worker, pay for work done during the shutdown is not guaranteed. Congress must pass a spending bill with a provision providing back pay for those paychecks to be doled out.
Vice President Joe Biden waits to conduct a mock swearing-in ceremony with Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, in the Capitol's Old Senate Chamber, December 2, 2014. Schatz was sworn in to serve the remainder of his term since he was appointed to the seat after Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, passed away.