WASHINGTON – Most of Minnesota’s members of Congress have decided to either go without pay during this Congress-induced government shutdown or donate their paycheck to a local charity.
It’s a shrewd political move clearly designed to preempt public anger over Congress’ inability to accomplish basic functions of government.
But for many in the state’s congressional delegation, going without a paycheck is not necessarily the same financial sacrifice as it is for the nearly 800,000 federal workers have been furloughed and the 1.3 million who are working without pay.
House and Senate members are paid $174,000 annually, which means their gross pay is $6,692 every two weeks. Their pay is unaffected by a shutdown because, despite what the public likely thinks, they are considered essential employees of the government, and the Constitution prohibits Congress from passing a law that affects members’ pay in the same session of Congress.
It’s difficult to get much clarity into members’ financial health because assets and liabilities are only reported in broad ranges, but I decided to use their minimum net worth (minimum assets minus maximum liabilities) as an indicator of their ability to weather a long stretch without pay.
DFL U.S. Sens. Al Franken and Amy Klobuchar are donating their pay to charity. Franken, the wealthiest member of the delegation with a minimum net worth of $4 million, has checking accounts worth a minimum of $115,000, according to his most recent financial disclosure form.
Klobuchar’s minimum net worth is $400,000. Her financial disclosure report lists three checking accounts (including one listed as a kid’s account) that are worth between $3,000 and $45,000 in total. Klobuchar’s husband, John Bessler, also reported receiving salaries from Georgetown University and the University of Baltimore Law School, though the amounts were not disclosed.
Another lawmaker who’s donating his salary is 1st District Democrat Tim Walz. It’s difficult to tell from Walz’s disclosure form the size of his checking account (his assets are split among several insurance policies and a college fund for his children). Walz is another member of the potentially negative net worth caucus. The minimum value of Walz’s assets is negative $217,000.
Eighth District Democrat Rick Nolan’s checking account is worth between $15,000 and $50,000 and his minimum net worth is $696,000. Nolan has also authored legislation that would prevent lawmakers from drawing a salary during future shutdowns.
Nolan has filed paperwork to have his salary withheld until the shutdown is over and appropriations again become available. After the shutdown, he will donate an amount of salary equivalent to the duration of the shutdown to local Minnesota charities, a spokesman said.
Michele Bachmann, the 6th District Republican who’s been the delegation’s strongest supporter of the hardball political tactics that have shut the government down, is having her pay withheld. She reports holding one checking account with a value between $1,000 and $15,000. However, Bachmann’s assets are worth a minimum of $1.3 million due to her husband Marcus Bachmann’s Christian counseling practice, though the pair’s liabilities could run as high as $1.75 million.
Third District U.S. Rep. Erik Paulsen announced on Twitter that he would not take a paycheck as long as the government is shut down. His financial disclosure shows two checking accounts worth between $30,000 and $100,000 and a minimum net worth of at least $170,000.
Another member going without pay is 7th District Democrat Collin Peterson. His checking accounts are worth between $30,000 and $100,000.
St. Paul Democrat Betty McCollum is also forgoing her pay. Her financial disclosure forms make it hard to tell the size of her checking account, but McCollum’s minimum net worth could approach negative $1 million due to mortgages on homes in St. Paul and Washington.
The last member who’s not taking a paycheck is 2nd District Rep. John Kline, a Republican. His checking account was worth between $15,000 and $50,000 though Kline’s minimum net worth is negative $820,000 due to mortgages on several properties he and his wife own.
Minneapolis Democratic Rep. Keith Ellison is the one member who’s said he is taking his pay. He told WCCO:
“If handing back pay would help furloughed workers I would find a way to survive without pay, but of course it won’t. Only allowing a vote on a clean continuing resolution will do that. The focus on Congressional pay is an attempt to draw attention away from the issue.”
Ellison is also among the least affluent members of Congress with a minimum net worth of negative $363,000. Ellison’s disclosures don’t indicate how large his checking account is.