(The Root) — Nearly 800,000 federal workers are furloughed because of a government shutdown, which means nearly 1 million Americans are now unsure when and where their next paycheck will come from, despite being employed. But among those federal workers not feeling the pinch: Congress. Members of Congress, as well as the president and vice president, will continue receiving their full salaries even though, thanks to them, hundreds of thousands of Americans will not receive theirs.
So why should they continue receiving their pay? The truth is they probably shouldn’t, but the fact is they have to. According to the 27th Amendment of the Constitution, “No law, varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives, shall take effect, until an election of Representatives shall have intervened.” This means that congressional pay is mandated by the Constitution. But maybe another amendment is necessary to change that — particularly in circumstances where Congress’ actions result in hundreds of thousands of Americans, whose tax dollars pay their salaries, not getting paid. But of course that would require members of Congress to agree to it and work together to make it happen. And we all know how likely that is.
To their credit, more than 100 members of the House of Representatives and Senate, from both political parties, have decided either to decline or to donate their salaries for the duration of the shutdown. You can see a list of them here. Unfortunately, that’s a pretty paltry total considering there are 100 senators and 435 members of the House.
Even more disturbing? The list is not dominated by those who spearheaded the government shutdown. For instance, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), the most visible conservative face of the shutdown, has not yet said he will forgo his salary.
So maybe instead of just focusing on punishing those elected officials who are responsible for allowing the shutdown to happen, we Americans need to flex our political power in a more meaningful way. Perhaps it’s time to push for a constitutional amendment that holds members of Congress to the same standard our employers hold us to: If you don’t do your job, you don’t get paid.