Congress still gets paid while government is closed

Their inability to lead lightens others' wallets but not theirs.

Congress has failed so miserably that it can't even keep the government open for business. But our representatives and senators still will get paid for failing to do their job.

Rest assured it's not because they are considered "essential" personnel and must remain on the job, like air traffic controllers, to ensure our safety. We all know better than that.

Rather, they have constitutional immunity. The 27th Amendment forbids altering their compensation.

The amendment was designed to prevent lawmakers from hiking their own pay, but it also preserves their pay when the government implodes on their watch.

Some senators and reps, including a few local ones, say they won't accept paychecks while the government is shut down. Others haven't vowed to stand in solidarity with the 800,000 rank-and-file federal workers sitting at home wondering whether they can make their next mortgage and car payments.

Given that, I thought you'd like to know just how much members of Congress get paid for not doing their jobs, and some of the other perks that come with "working" in the Capitol.

Let's start with salary.

Most senators and representatives collect $174,000 a year. Notice I didn't say they "earn" that much because that's clearly debatable.

Those in leadership positions "take" home more.

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, collects $223,500. The president pro tempore of the Senate, Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and the majority and minority leaders in the House and Senate collect $193,400.

Those figures are according to a January report from the Congressional Research Service.

While those salaries might seem lavish, other occupations yield more. The average salary for a surgeon last year was $230,000. Psychiatrists earned about $177,000.

The difference is that if their patients expired on the table or fell asleep on the couch, they'd be out of work. When government goes dormant, our leaders still are entitled to pay. And that's not all.

"The issue that you usually hear about that really annoy people is not the salary so much as the perks," said George Nation, a professor of law and business at Lehigh University.

Take, for example, their work schedule.

You and I are lucky to get three or four weeks away from work a year. During the month of August, the Senate was in session only three days and the House two.

I realize lawmakers have responsibilities in their district, too, and often are working when they are away from Washington. But their breaks from the Capitol often are extended ones and the sessions often are conveniently scheduled. For example, it's been rare this year for the Senate to be in session on a Friday.

Through September, 273 days into the year, the House was in session 118 days and the Senate was in session 110 days. When they're not in session, important legislation is left pending.

House members' commuting costs usually are not reimbursable, but when members travel on official business at government expense, it can be top flight.

House members are allowed to charter aircraft for "official travel." Their vehicle leases are paid, as well as the cost of gas, general maintenance, insurance, registration and any excess mileage fees incurred.

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