WASHINGTON — Hundreds of thousands of federal workers weren't paid Friday because of a partial government shutdown, and at least six dozen congressmen nationwide say they won't take their pay until the shutdown is over.
Four Louisiana House members — Republicans Garret Graves of Baton Rouge, Clay Higgins of Port Barre, Mike Johnson of Bossier Parish and Ralph Abraham of Richland Parish — say they have sent letters asking that their paychecks be held until the standoff over government funding is resolved, but the other half of the state's delegation hasn't taken a no-pay pledge.
Still to receive his paycheck as normal is GOP Sen. Bill Cassidy. GOP Sen. John Kennedy said he hadn’t decided what to do.
“I don’t have an answer for you,” Kennedy said while walking through the Capitol building Thursday afternoon. “I’m still thinking things through.”
Rep. Steve Scalise, R-Jefferson Parish, hasn't said whether he intends to collect his pay, and Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-New Orleans, intends to decide later.
In addition to the four Louisiana congressmen, more than 70 other members of Congress say they'll turn away their paychecks until the end of the shutdown, according to a tally from CNN, which included Graves on its list but didn't note Abraham, Higgins and Johnson also delaying their pay, which for Congress arrives at the end of the month.
Abraham, who’s running against Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards in this fall’s gubernatorial election, initially said he would take his paycheck as normal when first asked earlier this week. But a spokesman said the congressman had changed his mind and is now asking that his salary be withheld until the government reopens.
Pay schedules for regular federal employees vary, but many would have gotten their first paycheck of the month Friday.
Instead, about 420,000 federal staffers designated “essential” at agencies hit by the shutdown — such as air traffic controllers, federal law enforcement officers and National Weather Service meteorologists — continue working without pay, according to the Senate Appropriations Committee. An additional 380,000 workers have been furloughed without pay.
In Louisiana, 6,000 people work at federal agencies hit by the shutdown, including members and employees of the Coast Guard, TSA employees at airports in the state, many workers at NASA’s Michoud campus in New Orleans and hundreds Department of Agricultural staffers who work nearby, according to estimates by Governing magazine.
Of those federal employees, 5,858 are currently going without pay, according to figures provided by Richmond’s congressional office.
Federal employees working without pay through the partial shutdown will receive back pay for their hours once the shutdown ends. So too will the members of Congress — including Graves, Higgins and Johnson — who've asked that their pay be held.
The U.S. Constitution's 27th Amendment prohibits lawmakers from refusing their salaries altogether, but members of Congress can delay their paychecks.
Some lawmakers from other states have announced plans to donate their pay from the partial shutdown. It's unclear if any Louisiana members might join them or if they'll collect their back pay once impacted federal workers gather their back pay as well.
Congress also voted this week to give back pay to furloughed federal workers for the time their offices were closed once the government reopens. Those workers don't automatically receive pay but generally have after past shutdowns as well.
All of Louisiana's representatives supported the measure, which is now awaiting Trump's signature, excepted for Abraham, who missed the Friday noontime vote. Abraham was in Louisiana attending a fundraiser for his gubernatorial campaign.
Contractors such as janitors, cafeteria workers and outside security guards who work in now-closed federal offices are likely in a tougher spot. They're now mostly out of work during the shutdown and in the past haven't received compensation for their time.
The partial shutdown comes amid deadlock between President Donald Trump, who’s demanding $5.7 billion in additional money to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border to stop smuggling and illegal immigration, and congressional Democrats, who have derided Trump’s proposed wall as an ineffective symbol of anti-immigrant sentiment. The president had said last month, when Republicans controlled both houses of Congress, that he would "own" the shutdown if one occurred.
Republicans in Louisiana’s congressional delegation said they supported Trump’s demand for border-wall money, calling it an important step to securing the country and clamping down on illegal immigration. Richmond, the lone Democrat, has criticized the president’s demands and blamed Trump’s inability to negotiate for the partial shutdown.
Kennedy said he suspected the shutdown could be lengthy, potentially dragging on until Trump and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California can work out their differences. There have been few signs of progress.
“I’m not saying that’s a happy circumstance,” Kennedy said. “I’m just saying that’s reality right now.”
Workers at the U.S. departments of Justice, State, Homeland Security, Housing and Urban Development, Transportation, Agriculture and Interior have mostly gone unpaid as those agencies shuttered offices and scaled back operations.
Large parts of the U.S. government, however, have been unaffected by the shutdown. Nearly all of the U.S. military was spared any impact, though the U.S. Coast Guard was hit and service members there are now missing paychecks.
The U.S. Postal Service, which operates as a semi-independent entity, is still running. Other agencies — including the federal departments of Labor, Education, Energy and Veterans Affairs — were fully funded before the current standoff and are operating normally.
Members of Congress and and their staffers also haven’t been hit by the partial shutdown because they passed funding bills covering their own offices earlier this year.
Graves was the first Louisiana member of Congress to announce plans to hold off his pay until the shutdown ends, posting about it on Facebook in December.
“I don’t think that we should be treated any differently from some of these federal employees who aren’t getting paid,” Graves told constituents in a video town hall on Facebook Wednesday evening. “These federal employees, (…) they’re not responsible for the shutdown and, quite frankly, don’t have the ability to open the government back up. They’re being penalized for something they’re not responsible for, don’t have control over and can’t fix. I don’t think that’s necessarily fair.”
Matt Wolking, a spokesman for Cassidy, said Cassidy planned to continue taking his pay.
“Washington Democrats who do not support border security may be refusing to do their jobs and negotiate, but Senator Cassidy is working hard to pass legislation that will secure the border, reopen the federal government and get all federal employees back to work,” said Wolking.
Higgins quoted the Bible in a note to The Advocate explaining his decision to hold off on his pay before laying into Democrats as "unreasonable" in negotiations over building Trump's proposed border wall.
Higgins also criticized the way Congress funds government agencies — generally lumping funding for multiple departments into a single bill — and urged Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to end the filibuster as a way of steamrolling Senate Democrats, who are in the minority but hold enough seats to block legislation they oppose as a group.
Higgins' proposal — informally referred to as the "nuclear option" — might have ended the stalemate over wall funding back in December when Republicans held the majority in both chambers of Congress. But it wouldn't work now because Democrats under Pelosi hold power in the House.
Spokespeople for Scalise, a Jefferson Parish Republican who’s been in the middle of negotiations over the wall as the No. 2 Republican in the House, didn’t directly answer specific questions from The Advocate about what Scalise intends to do with his congressional paycheck or respond to follow-up questions about his plans.
But Lauren Fine, a Scalise spokeswoman, also blamed Democrats for the standoff — accusing them of putting “their political games over the safety and security of our nation” — and noted that Scalise helped the House GOP pass a bill just before Christmas to build the wall and fund the government.
Democrats opposed that bill, dooming its chances in the U.S. Senate.