While thousands of federal workers aren’t getting paid during the government shutdown, U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver acknowledged Tuesday he’s still collecting his paycheck.
“Me taking my check has nothing to do with anything going on,” said Cleaver, D-Missouri, who joined U.S. Rep. Sharice Davids, D-Kansas, at a Tuesday press conference to discuss utility assistance, loan relief and other help for struggling local employees as the shutdown stretches past one month, with no end in sight.
Kansas City is a major regional federal government hub, with about 38,000 workers spread across 160 agencies. An estimated 9,000 are currently going without pay.
Cleaver said he won’t forgo payment “because then I end up hurting like everybody else, and then my anxiousness to get my check puts me in a bad spot to negotiate. I’m negotiating because I’m thinking about my car payment. I want people negotiating when they’re not personally involved, so they can be completely straight.”
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Lawmakers are allowed to request that their paychecks not be deposited until the shutdown ends. Most members of Congress make $174,000 per year.
Cleaver is joined by Republican Sens. Pat Roberts and Jerry Moran of Kansas and Republican Sens. Roy Blunt and Josh Hawley of Missouri in continuing to accept payment.
Davids, a freshman, would not directly say if she would defer pay.
“I haven’t made a commitment to not take my paycheck, partly because my first paycheck won’t be until Feb. 1,” she said. “I think right now our biggest commitment is trying to make sure that everybody gets paid, and gets back pay, including low-wage contractors.”
At least three area lawmakers have asked for salary to be withheld during the shutdown: Reps. Steve Watkins and Ron Estes, R-Kansas, and Rep. Vicky Hartzler, R-Missouri.
Rep. Sam Graves, R-Missouri, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
While Hawley is receiving pay, his spokeswoman, Kelli Ford, said the freshman Republican supports two bills that would prevent members of Congress from getting paychecks in future shutdowns.
During their press conference at Kansas City Area Transportation Authority (KCATA) offices, Cleaver and Davids said they did not see any immediate prospects for a break in the impasse.
“The first step for us moving it along is for the Senate to actually vote on the bills that we passed (in the House),“ Davids said.
Cleaver said it’s up to Senate Leader Mitch McConnell to break the logjam. But he added that it’s hard for McConnell, with a president who is so unpredictable and who appears to take direction from conservative commentator Ann Coulter.
“I feel sorry for Mitch McConnell,” Cleaver said. “I understand he doesn’t trust the president.”
McConnell is trying for a vote in the Senate based on a proposal from President Donald Trump, but it involves $5.7 billion in funding for a border wall that Democrats oppose.
While the shutdown drags on, Cleaver and Davids said utilities like the Kansas City Water Department and Kansas City Power & Light have flexible payment options and will waive late fees for affected federal workers. The utilities have also agreed not to shut off service to federal workers who aren’t being paid. Cleaver’s office has reached out to Spire, the gas company, about similar relief but hasn’t heard back.
KCATA is providing free bus service to federal workers affected by the shutdown who show identification, and has already provided about 1,000 such rides in the past week.
Community America Credit Union is offering no interest loans, credit extensions and short term financial loans to federal workers in need. Other credit unions offering assistance in the metro area are Mazuma Credit Union, KUMC Credit Union, USPLK Employees Federal Credit Union in Leavenworth and Frontier Community Credit Union in Leavenworth.