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WNY GOP congressmen target lawmakers’ pay to stop shutdown

WASHINGTON – Republican members of Congress who represent Western New York put forth their plans Monday for stopping a government shutdown before it happens: bills that would shut off the paychecks of federal lawmakers unless they complete work on legislation to fund the government.

Rep. Chris Collins, R-Clarence, introduced a bill that would puts congressional pay into escrow until Congress passes a funding bill.

Meanwhile, Rep. Tom Reed, R-Corning, took things one step further with a proposal that would cut off congressional pay completely – as well as the pay for the president and top administration officials – for the duration of a shutdown.

Reed’s bill would also ensure that members of the military, veterans and senior citizens don’t lose benefits.

Coming a week before the deadline by which Congress must act to prevent a shutdown, the proposals from Collins and Reed – like most proposals from junior lawmakers – face stiff odds against making it into law.

Still, the proposals shed light on an odd quirk in federal law that calls for members of Congress to be paid during a shutdown even though members of the military are not.

“As members of Congress, it is our job to keep the government running, and if the government shuts down, I don’t believe we should collect a salary during that time,” Collins said. “It is wrong that members of Congress should continue to get paid while programs for veterans, seniors and many others are adversely impacted.”

Reed said the same thing, which is why he offered a bill to ensure that members of the military would get their paychecks and that veterans’ and seniors’ programs would continue to be funded.

“Our bill rightly puts our service men and women and seniors above Congress and the president should a shutdown occur,” Reed said.

“Obviously our hope is that the Senate acts and a shutdown is avoided, but we need to be prepared and have protections in place for our military and seniors.”

In the increasingly likely event of a government shutdown, members of the military would not be paid because their salaries are paid out of the annual appropriations legislation that Congress is supposed to finish by Sept. 30, the end of the federal fiscal year.

Meanwhile, without such a spending measure, many nonessential services for veterans and seniors would be stopped. But Social Security checks would continue to go out, and Medicare would continue to operate, since those programs are funded through separate trust funds rather than annual appropriations.

Similarly, Congress and President Obama are on track to continue to be paid in the event of a shutdown because their salaries are considered mandatory spending under the law, meaning they are not subject to the annual appropriations bills.

Collins, for one, thinks that’s a mistake.

“Salary and job performance should be tied together, and if members of Congress aren’t doing their job, that should be reflected in their salary,” Collins said. “The American people deserve more from their Congress, and it is time, as members of Congress, that we put ourselves at the back of the line and put our constituents first in a government shutdown.”

The bills offered by Collins and Reed differ in two ways.

Collins’ bill is narrower, in that it deals only with congressional pay and not other programs that would be affected by a government shutdown.

And while Collins’ bill puts congressional pay into escrow until a shutdown is over, Reed’s bill cuts it off completely. That’s a move that could face a constitutional challenge, given that the 27th Amendment says: “No law, varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives, shall take effect, until an election of Representatives shall have intervened.”

Both Collins and Reed last week voted for a Republican bill that funds the government through Dec. 15 while defunding the health care law that is Obama’s signature accomplishment. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, has vowed to alter that measure to fund the health care law and then throw the legislation back to the House, which would have to pass it to avert a shutdown.

If one of their bills passes, both Collins and Reed can afford to lose a paycheck or two.

The Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call reported earlier this month that Collins, a successful businessman before entering politics, is the 17th wealthiest member of Congress, with a net worth of at least $22.26 million.

Reed’s 2012 personal financial disclosure shows that the Southern Tier congressman – a successful debt collection lawyer before joining Congress – is worth between $320,010 and $825,000.