Martinsville Bulletin, Inc.
P. O. Box 3711
204 Broad Street
Martinsville, Virginia 24115
Toll Free: 800-234-6575
Local congressmen hold differing views on pay, staff
Thursday, October 3, 2013
By BULLETIN STAFF REPORTS -
Three of the area’s four congressmen are taking different approaches on accepting their pay while the government is shut down. All have reduced their staffs.
Ninth District U.S. Rep. Morgan Griffith, R-Salem, said he will hold off on deciding whether to keep his pay for the period when the government is on partial shutdown.
“I’m going to review it when this is over and determine what I ought to do,” Griffith said Wednesday, adding that his next paycheck is due Nov. 1.
He said he needs to see if the shutdown lasts “three days, a couple of weeks ... I hope it’s not still on Nov. 1. I’ll take a look at all the factors when I know what I’m talking about” and decide what to do.
Under the 27th Amendment, members of Congress cannot withhold their own pay, according to The Associated Press. However, several members of both parties have pledged to donate their salaries to charity while the shutdown continues, according to published reports.
Democratic Sen. Mark Warner will donate an amount equivalent to his pay to the nonprofit Federal Employee Education & Assistance Fund, which provides scholarships and emergency aid to federal workers, said his press secretary, Kevin Hall. The senator also did that during the recent sequester furloughs, Hall added.
The pay for senators and representatives is set by law at $174,000 annually, Hall said.
Virginia’s other senator, Tim Kaine, also a Democrat, said Wednesday that until a resolution is reached and the government reopens, he is “treating myself like my staff” members who are working without pay.
All three legislators have only skeleton staffs working because of the shutdown.
Five of Warner’s estimated 60 staff members are on the job, and only the D.C. office is open. The state offices in Roanoke, Abingdon, Richmond, Norfolk and Fairfax are closed, Hall said.
Griffith’s total staff of 16 in the 9th District and his Washington office has been cut to one person in the district and four in the Washington office, he said. Those people will be paid, he added.
Thirty-seven of Kaine’s staff members in Washington have been furloughed, according to Amy Dudley, Kaine’s media person. Only five employees in his offices are working — four in D.C. and one in Richmond handling emergency case work. Their pay is being withheld.
All three legislators were watching to see what came from President Barack Obama’s meeting Wednesday with House and Senate leadership. Griffith said he hoped the talks would lead to progress in resolving the stalemate; Kaine said he hoped a sense of leadership would emerge from the meeting; and Hall said he did not “know that there are high expectations” from that meeting.
But otherwise, “there is not much movement” toward reaching a compromise, Hall said.
Griffith said he did not agree with the shutdown, which began Tuesday.
“The Senate should have negotiated,” he said, adding that he expected the Senate to approve the repeal of a medical device act, if nothing else, because 79 Senators had approved it in an earlier non-binding vote. Griffith called it a “tax on sick people ... a place we can agree.” But that didn’t happen.
There are other areas where compromise between the two chambers could be possible, according to Griffith, but he said the Senate has been unbending.
“I don’t know how to resolve a problem if they’re not willing to talk,” he said. “I never wanted to have a shutdown, but if the other side isn’t going to even talk to you, what choice do you have?”
On Tuesday, Warner said the shutdown stemmed from the actions of a small group of Republican House members determined to have their way. He did not identify those congressmen, and Griffith said Wednesday he is not among them.
“I don’t know about such a group,” Griffith said. “It’s easy to point at some group and say they are holding everybody up. The truth is a lot of us hold beliefs that Obamacare is very bad for the country” and they are trying to spare people its impact.
The shutdown stemmed largely from the tea party-driven strategy of demanding changes to the nation’s health care overhaul in exchange for essential federal financing, the AP reported.
If the House is to be heard — and it “is not going to abdicate all the authority in Washington to the Senate” — “I don’t know what choice we have. They’re (the Senate) not playing within the parameters of what is supposed to be done,” Griffith said.
Constituents who are calling his office are not happy about the shutdown, he said, calling that “understandable.” Some of them think Obamacare should not be part of the discussions, but it is an expense, and a spending bill is the issue on the table, he said.
“I think 24 to 48 hours after the Senate starts talking to us” the shutdown could be resolved, Griffith said.
Kaine said the only way to resolve the impasse in Congress is for leaders in both chambers to lead. But “to be blunt, I think the House is treating this like a negotiation tactic or a game, and this is no game,” Kaine said of the shutdown that has about 150,000 Virginians furloughed with no idea when or if they will get their next paycheck.
The Senate has wanted to reopen the government and go to a budget conference, “but the House has blocked our requests 19 times since March 23,” Kaine said.
Now, Kaine noted, the House has proposed “piecemeal bills” for the Senate to consider that would reopen parts of the government. But Kaine said restoring some services and not others would not be fair or expedient.
Those bills, which passed the House on Wednesday, looked unlikely to make it though the Senate, according to the AP.
Instead, Kaine said, reopen the government and “let’s have the budget conference. We (the Senate) agreed to the” Continuing Resolution (CR) and sent it to the House. Now, “we need to have the budget conference.”
The shutdown “is devastating,” Kaine said, not only for federal employees who are furloughed, but also on businesses and tourists to national parks such as the Blue Ridge Parkway, Skyline Drive and Chincoteague. Amenities in all parks have been affected, he said.
He and Warner, along with their colleagues, have co-sponsored a bill to retroactively pay furloughed employees. It will not face a vote until the government reopens, according to Hall.
“I think these employees have been furloughed through no fault of their own. ... They are hardworking people and they want to do a good job,” Kaine said, explaining why he co-sponsored the proposal.
Kaine said he is optimistic that the shutdown will be resolved soon, and he noted signs of progress.
For instance, on Tuesday, he said four House Republicans from Virginia said they were in favor of a budget conference.
“I think we will find a resolution. It may take 10 days” or two weeks, “but that’s the optimist in me and it’s not hard” to reach a resolution, Kaine said.
“All they have to do is say yes. But they are saying, ‘We won’t even let you spend at the level we want unless you defund Obamacare,’” Kaine said. But that is not related to the shutdown, he argued.
“I want a farm bill” and other bills as well, Kaine said, but this is not the time to tack on additional stipulations.
Fifth District U.S. Rep. Robert Hurt, R-Chatham, could not be reached for comment. However, he issued a statement Wednesday after voting for legislation that would fund the National Institutes of Health and reopen our national monuments.
“This bill represents another proposal offered by the House to fund the critical operations of the government during this difficult time,” he stated.
“The Senate and the president have said from day one that they would refuse to negotiate on a simple spending plan for the U.S. government. I call on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to come to the table so that we can work to find agreement on these important issues. I remain committed to working in good faith to find agreement for funding the operations of government as soon as possible,” Hurt added.