Since the federal government is shut down, federal employees like members of the military or postal carriers are being asked to work without pay.
But one group of people won’t lose their taxpayer-funded paychecks during the shutdown: The nation’s 538 U.S. senators and representatives.
Some members of Congress have, however, begun announcing they won’t accept pay while the shutdown continues – including at least five of North Carolina’s 15 members of Congress. All five are Republicans.
Since they make a $175,000 annual salary, that could add up fast, depending on how long it takes Congress to agree on getting the government funded again. On Monday, the Senate approved a deal to end the shutdown.
Republican Rep. Mark Walker, who represents areas from Greensboro to Lee County, wrote on Twitter that turning down his pay is “the very least I can do” until the military gets paid again.
Republican Rep. Mark Meadows of Asheville, who leads the hardline Freedom Caucus, said no one in Congress should get paid while the government is shut down – and he would lead by example.
“I will not be accepting one dime of my salary,” he wrote on Twitter. “As long as our military members and families aren't being paid, I won't be paid either.”
Democrats did come up with a temporary plan to pay military salaries while the larger shutdown debate continued, but it went nowhere. In the Senate, Missouri Democrat Claire McCaskill proposed a bill that would’ve kept the troops paid and stopped civilian defense workers from being furloughed. However, Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell wouldn’t let her bill come up for a vote.
North Carolina voters could be hit especially hard because two of the biggest military bases in the country are here. At any give time, around 100,000 troops are stationed at Fort Bragg and Camp Lejeune alone, not to mention the civilian contractors there and the troops and civilians at smaller bases elsewhere in the state.
Most of those troops are represented by Republicans; Fort Bragg is in Rep. Richard Hudson’s district and Camp Lejeune is in Rep. Walter Jones’ district. Hudson’s spokesman said he would request that his salary be withheld during the shutdown.
Rep. Robert Pittenger, a Republican whose district stretches from Charlotte to just outside of Fort Bragg, and Rep. Virginia Foxx, who represents northwestern North Carolina, indicated they would stop accepting their taxpayer-funded salaries until the troops are also getting paid again.
“For Members of Congress to still receive pay during a government shutdown is unconscionable,” Pittenger wrote on Twitter.
Tillis promises action on DACA
The government shut down largely because of a battle over immigration, specifically a program called DACA that protects people from deportation if they were brought here illegally as children. Although polls show that nearly 90 percent of Americans approve of that, Republicans in Congress have been hesitant to let it continue past March, when it is set to expire.
Democrats said they wouldn’t vote to avoid a shutdown unless the spending bill contained an extension of DACA, but Republicans didn’t budge, so the budget failed to pass. That happened Friday night; it’s unclear how long the shutdown might continue.
Republican Sen. Thom Tillis of Charlotte, who is one of the GOP’s more moderate voices on immigration, criticized his Democratic colleagues for not voting on the budget due to their immigration concerns. He said Congress still has several weeks left to debate DACA, so using it as leverage now was unwise.
“Since last year, I’ve been working on a solution that would provide long-term certainty for DACA recipients and effectively secure our borders once and for all,” Tillis said. “Even though we’re closer than ever to a deal and Congress has until March 5 to provide a solution for DACA youth, Democrats instead chose to create an arbitrary deadline to justify their decision to shut down the government. Their shutdown will not be helpful in getting a bipartisan deal to the President’s desk.”
But Democrats like G.K. Butterfield, who represents northeastern North Carolina, said Republicans “refused” to give Democrats any input on the spending bill and shouldn’t act surprised that most Democrats didn’t want to vote for it.
“Republicans continue to push a far-right agenda that favors the few at the expense of the many,” Butterfield wrote on Twitter. “But no one wins when our politics devolve to the point of a government shut down.”
But while many in Congress expressed frustration with the shutdown, many in the White House did not seem too concerned.
President Donald Trump’s budget director Mick Mulvaney called it “kind of cool” that he will be the one to personally oversee the shutdown, and Trump’s son Eric Trump said that as long as the public blames Democrats, the shutdown will be “a good thing for us.”
Doran: 919-836-2858; Twitter: @will_doran