When the federal government partially shut down for more than two weeks in October, shuttering national parks and delaying services, many lawmakers vowed to deny their paychecks.
It was a show of solidarity with federal workers and others harmed by the shutdown. The situation emerged from a congressional spat over the new health care law that led to lawmakers being unable to agree on any spending bill to keep the government open.
Ultimately, the affected federal workers received back pay, but the question, five months later, is did those lawmakers follow through on their paycheck pledge?
It was a legally tricky proposition. Members of Congress can’t just decline to be paid their $174,000 salary, so they would have to give the money away.
Of Georgia’s 16 members of Congress, four gave away their shutdown pay.
Rep. Doug Collins, a Gainesville Republican, in November gave a total of $5,200 to three local charities — a home for the handicapped, a rape crisis center and a facility for disabled children.
Augusta Democratic Rep. John Barrow gave $5,936 to the Augusta Warrior Project for wounded members of the armed services. Rep. Phil Gingrey, a Marietta Republican, gave $5,049.76 back to the U.S. Treasury in December.
Rep. Jack Kingston, a Savannah Republican who, like Gingrey, is running for the U.S. Senate this year, donated between $7,500 and $8,000 to Christ Church Anglican, his home church. But his office would not say when the donation was made, so it could have come after reporters started asking if he’d followed through on his pledge.
The Washington Post produced a rundown late last month of which lawmakers had given away their pay, saying Kingston did not respond to its inquiry.
An additional five Georgia congressmen — all Republicans — sent letters to the chief administrative officer of the U.S. House asking for their pay to be withheld for the duration of the shutdown.
But this gesture had no practical effect for Paul Broun of Athens (another U.S. Senate candidate), Rob Woodall of Lawrenceville, Lynn Westmoreland of Coweta County, Austin Scott of Tifton, and Tom Graves of Ranger.
Members of Congress are paid monthly, so the members never missed a paycheck before the government reopened Oct. 17.
Rep. David Scott, an Atlanta Democrat, said he would turn down pay as the shutdown commenced in October, according to contemporary press accounts, but ended up keeping his pay.
“The office was open every day and he fought to open the government,” said David Scott’s chief of staff, Michael Andel. “Then, federal employees received back pay.”
Congress did work during the shutdown, staying in Washington longer than usual with many late nights and weekends centered on trying to find an elusive solution. They also passed bills to mitigate the shutdown’s damage, such as the measure giving back pay to all federal employees whose paychecks were disrupted.
Many members of Congress furloughed their staffs, leading to instances such as Collins answering his own office phone.
The rest of the members of the delegation, including both GOP Sens. Johnny Isakson and Saxby Chambliss, never promised to relinquish their pay.
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