WASHINGTON -- Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) won't be joining the more than 100 lawmakers who are giving up their pay during the shutdown.
"I'm staying here, and I'm working," said Cramer in an interview with Valley News Live on Wednesday. "My office is open, we're taking phone calls, I'm voting every day, I'm debating every day, I'm going to countless meetings. I'm working to earn the salary that the people pay me to do the job. I don't get into those sort of stunt-y things, and I'm not going to do it."
"I will continue to earn it, and I will continue to collect what I earn, yes," he added.
The rest of the North Dakota congressional delegation -- Sens. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) and John Hoeven (R-N.D.) -- plan to donate their pay to charity while the government is shut down.
Cramer also argued that he is not wealthy and therefore can't really afford to give up his salary.
"If you want a Congress that's full of millionaires and doctors' spouses, this is a great little trick," he said. "But our office is open and I'm working, and I'm not going to get into the gimmicks. We have big issues we have to deal with."
It's true that not all lawmakers are wealthy, and some are better able to deal with a lost salary than others. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), for example, said he would donate his shutdown pay to charity. His wife, however, is the regional head of a Goldman Sachs division. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) is also donating his salary to charity, but he is the wealthiest member of Congress, worth $355 million.
Most of the 800,000 federal workers who were furloughed -- through absolutely no fault of their own -- aren't exactly living the high life. Cramer may be proud that he's "earning" his salary while the government is shut down, but these public servants don't have that luxury: They're prohibited from working. And they're in this situation because lawmakers like Cramer didn't pass a continuing resolution to keep the government open.
There is no guarantee that furloughed workers will ever be paid for the days lost. While they did receive back pay after the government shutdowns of 1995 and 1996, Congress may decide not to authorize it this time.
Cramer's office did not return a request for comment on whether he would support back pay for furloughed workers.
The congressman also said on Wednesday that he was not impressed by senators' giving up their salaries, since the current group don't really deserve the money anyway.
"Here's where I'm different from a senator," Cramer said. "We pass continuing resolutions. We pass appropriations bills. In fact, we've passed a defense authorization and a defense appropriations bill that the Senate hasn't taken up. We've passed 146 bills to their paltry 67 or so. We're doing a lot more work over on our side than they are. Maybe they ought to go out and earn it."
"So I don't feel guilty about the salary that I earn and that the people pay me," he added. "And if it becomes a problem, you know, that's what elections are about. But we have bigger issues here today to deal with."
The salaries of members of Congress, as well as that of the president, come from a pool of mandatory funds and are not affected by a shutdown. Most lawmakers earn $174,000 a year.