Republican U.S. Rep. Renee Ellmers said Friday she would decline her $174,000 congressional salary during the federal government shutdown, reversing course after facing intense pressure.
Ellmers sent a letter to House officials asking for her pay to be withheld, saying in a statement she would “stand with all federal workers.”
Two days earlier, the Dunn lawmaker had refused to decline her paycheck like many of her Republican and Democratic colleagues during the shutdown, telling a Raleigh TV station, “I need my paycheck. That is the bottom line.”
The remark generated a firestorm and calls of hypocrisy given that 800,000 federal workers are being furloughed without pay because of the budget impasse in Congress.
Ellmers begin backtracking Friday morning in a CNN interview just before 10 a.m. She said her October paycheck was in her bank account when the shutdown took effect, Oct. 1, suggesting she couldn’t do anything about it. But if the shutdown continued, Ellmers said, she will have another option to defer in November. “I may do it at that point,” she told CNN.
‘I’m there with them’
In the same interview, the second-term congresswoman sought to empathize with the furloughed workers, saying she’s in their camp – even though she is getting paid. “I feel for those who have been furloughed – I’m there with them,” she said.
Along with House Republicans, Ellmers voted for a federal spending bill linked to defunding the new health care law, a move that created a stalemate with the Democratic-majority Senate.
Some House Republicans are now saying they want to pass a bill to fund government without tying it to the health care law. But in the CNN interview, Ellmers avoided directly answering a question of whether she supported the move.
By 2 p.m. Ellmers retreated further and announced she would decline her October pay. A spokesman said Ellmers misspoke in the CNN interview about her October paycheck. The check deposited before the shutdown covered September, not October.
Congressional members and staffers are paid at the end of each month for work done that month, he said.
In 2010, Ellmers, a nurse, wasrated as one of the poorest members of Congress with a personal net worth of negative $91,497. Her most recent financial disclosure form provided by her office shows she’s still in the red, with a negative net worth of $403,000. The debt reflects a mortgage, a home equity line and a loan for property at Topsail Beach. The form does not include her congressional salary or the salary of her husband, a doctor.
“We appreciate the fact that Rep. Ellmers is living paycheck to paycheck, like so many hardworking North Carolinians, making it all the more unfortunate that she (refused) to earn her paycheck and work toward a commonsense solution to end this self-inflicted crisis,” said Micah Beasley, a N.C. Democratic Party spokesman.
Others are declining
Dozens of congressional lawmakers are voluntarily not taking a salary, including Democrats David Price of Chapel Hill and Mike McIntyre of Lumberton and Republicans Robert Pittenger of Charlotte, George Holding of Raleigh, Virginia Foxx of Banner Elk, Patrick McHenry of Hickory, Richard Hudson of Concord and Mark Meadows of Cashiers. U.S. Sens. Kay Hagan, a Democrat, and Richard Burr, a Republican, also will decline their pay for the duration of the shutdown.
Reps. Howard Coble, a Republican from Greensboro, and Mel Watt, a Charlotte Democrat, both said they will keep their pay during the shutdown. Democrat G.K. Butterfield and Republican Walter Jones did not respond to calls seeking comment.
Pittenger has never accepted his congressional salary. Pittenger, Meadows and Holding had the highest average net incomes of North Carolina’s U.S. House delegation, according to a report released at the beginning of the year by the Center for Responsive Politics. Hagan is one of the 50 richest members of Congress, ranking 45th, according to Roll Call, a Washington publication. Pittenger ranked No. 13.
Amid the shutdown, Ellmers is a constant on cable television news programs, appearing on CNBC, MSNBC, Fox and Fox Business News to tout Republican talking points. In the interviews, she blames Democrats for the impasse, saying they refuse to negotiate on the federal health care law and calling the shutdown “totally unnecessary.”
Democrats, however, blame Republicans, saying the need to continue government funding and increase the nation’s debt ceiling are separate issues from the new health insurance program.