Government shuts down. Who, besides citizens, will pay?
Happy official 100th birthday federal income tax

'Essential' Representatives, Senators get paid during shutdown

Right now, most Americans -- and especially those furloughed federal workers sitting at home a second straight day -- don't consider Representatives and Senators essential.

That's the designation made by federal agencies about their various jobs to determine who comes to work during a government shutdown.

Employees in essential jobs are at their desks, with at least the hope of eventually getting paid when the government comes back online. Holders of nonessential positions are furloughed.

And despite what some members of Congress have said, being furloughed is not the same as a paid vacation day for federal workers. It means these almost 800,000 folks are off their jobs with no pay. In the past, Congress reinstated the pay lost by those workers. But the last time was 17 years ago and there's no guarantee that will happen in 2013.

Paychecks still issued on Capitol Hill: One thing, however, is certain. The people who've shutdown the federal government are getting paid, and paid very nicely.

Members of Congress and the president are essentially deemed essential government employees.

They will collect their paychecks because their jobs are authorized by the U.S. Constitution and they are paid with mandatory funds, not discretionary spending dependent on annual appropriations.

Representatives and Senators get a base annual salary of $174,000. Lawmakers in leadership positions -- yes, I know that's even more of an oxymoron that usual right now -- earn more. House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), who has been unable to unify more moderate Republicans and the conservative Tea Party members of his party who are driving the funding holdout, makes $223,500 a year.

While the reason that federal lawmakers get paid is understandable -- Constitution, blah blah blah, they operate the mechanism to get government going again, blah blah blah -- it just doesn't look right.

That's why a couple of lawmakers tried to sidestep the issue when a CNN anchor asked if they would give up their pay during the shutdown.

CNN anchor Ashleigh Banfield posed the uncomfortable query on Monday, Sept. 30, about 12 hours before Uncle Sam closed most of his doors, to two of the more conservative House Republicans, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) and Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.).

'Essential' employee proposed change: One Representative thinks there needs to be a change in the legislative branch payment system during a federal government shutdown.

Rep. Pete P. Gallego (D-Texas) has introduced a bill that would make lawmakers also pay a financial price in the event of a government shutdown.

The Shutdown Member of Congress Pay Act of 2013 would suspend pay for members of Congress in the event of a government shutdown.

"Congress should work around-the-clock, and do so without pay, to keep the government running," said Gallego in a statement announcing the bill's introduction.

Chances of Gallego's bill passing are slim. OK, nonexistent.

Forgoing pay: But the freshman Representative is putting his money where his legislation is. Gallego is donating his pay received during the shutdown to a charitable group that helps military men and women who are injured during their tour of duty.

Gallego is not alone. Several lawmakers also have announced plans to donate their pay or refuse compensation earned over the course of the federal government closure.

The Washington Post is keeping a running tally of the public relations conscious lawmakers. So far, around 60 have made the list.

UPDATE 6:54 p.m. ET Oct. 2: At least 108 lawmakers, 56 Republicans and 52 Democrats, have said that they plan to donate their pay or refuse compensation as long as the govenrment remains closed.

Deducting pay donation: The natural tax question is can the members of Congress donating their pay to charity deduct it? Yes, if they itemize and the charity is an Internal Revenue Service qualified 501(c)(3) organization.

But they likely can't deduct all of it on their 2013 tax returns.

Most public charities have what is known as the 50 percent limit. That means that a taxpayer's deduction is limited to 50 percent of his or her adjusted gross income.

Basically, this means that the deduction cannot be more than half of what we make in a year. Depending on what other charitable gifts the Representatives and Senators have made so far this year and how much of their salary is surrendered if the shutdown drags on, the donation of their pay might put them over that 50 percent limit.

But the excess is not lost. It can be carried forward and deducted in future tax years, again subject to the overall 50 percent limit.

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