Calif. senators to donate shutdown pay; Ruiz asks for pay to be withheld

Raju Chebium
Gannett Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON - California Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, both millionaires, plan to give away the money they earn during the partial federal shutdown.

On the other hand, the Coachella Valley's congressman -- a relative pauper -- won't get paid until Uncle Sam resumes normal operations but will eventually accept a salary for the period when much of the government was closed.

Unlike 800,000 federal employees who began taking unpaid leave on Oct. 1, members of Congress are exempt from furloughs and will continue to get paid once a month as usual unless they tell congressional administrators to hold on to their pay. Lawmakers last got paid on Sept. 30, so they haven't missed a paycheck yet.

According to their aides, Feinstein will donate her pay to the Consortium of Catholic Academies; Boxer will give it to charities that support veterans and women's health.

Only eight members of Congress are wealthier than Feinstein, who was worth an estimated $42 million last year, according to the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call. Boxer was worth between $1.2 million and $5.5 million in 2012, according to her financial disclosure records.

Ruiz's filings for last year show he was worth between $86,000 and $565,000. In an interview in July, the son of migrant workers said he has $125,000 in outstanding student-loan debt and can't afford to pay it off as early as he'd like and continue to support family members.

Rank-and-file members of the House and the Senate are paid $174,000 a year.

Ruiz, a freshman Democrat from Palm Desert, told House officials to put his salary in an escrow account until the shutdown ends, according to his spokesman, Michael Ford.

"He believes that if (members of) Congress cannot do their job, they should not get paid," he said, adding that Ruiz supports legislation denying shutdown pay to lawmakers.

Boxer has a proposal that would do just that.

The Rancho Mirage Democrat, who is mentoring Ruiz, said Thursday she's working to broaden support for legislation she and Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., introduced in January to deny lawmaker pay during shutdowns and debt defaults. A similar Boxer bill passed the Senate in 2011 but stalled in the Republican-led House.

The first shutdown in 17 years began Tuesday, after Congress failed to pass a temporary funding measure for the new fiscal year.

Republicans refuse to pass a budget bill unless Congress agrees to rework, delay or repeal President Barack Obama's signature health-care law. The stalemate continued on Friday, four days into the shutdown.

About two-thirds of the 2.1-million-strong federal workforce has to show up to work to maintain national security and to protect people and property. Social Security and Medicare payments are still being made. But the rest of the workforce has been sent home indefinitely and the employees won't get paid unless Congress passes a bill awarding retroactive pay. The House is expected to vote on such a bill, and Obama has signaled his support of the measure.

Like most senators, Boxer and Feinstein have furloughed half to two-thirds of their staff, closed their Washington and state offices and suspended constituent services. Acting on the advice of Senate lawyers, senators have retained just enough staff to help them legislate, aides say,

But House lawyers have told members that staff can be kept on the job as long as they're deemed essential. Like many other House members, Ruiz is open for business and has, in fact, extended office hours in the 36th Congressional District.


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