Fact Check

Does Congress Get Paid While Military Personnel Do Not During a Government Shutdown?

Unlike military pay, which is appropriated annually, paychecks for House and Senate members are guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, even during a shutdown.

Published Jan. 22, 2018

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Members of Congress continue to get paid but military personnel do not during a U.S. government shutdown.

Much of the United States government ceased operations at midnight on 20 January 2018 after Congress failed to pass a short-term funding bill to keep the government going, until a permanent appropriations bill for fiscal year 2018 could be hammered out.

A government shutdown means all but the most essential operations come to a halt and many federal employees are furloughed and most stop receiving paychecks until Congress breaks its deadlock and funding is restored.

Along with questions about mail delivery, Social Security payments, and whether or not national parks would be open through the shutdown, some readers wanted to know if members of the military are still on duty, and whether they get paid.

Some readers put the question this way: "Is it true that members of Congress still get paid during a government shutdown, while military personnel do not?"

The short answer to the question is yes. Unlike most federal workers and members of the military, whose pay must be appropriated annually, the salaries of House and Senate members are permanently authorized in the U.S. Constitution.

With respect to the military, an U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) memo issued on 18 January and signed by Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick M. Shanahan:

The Department will, of course, continue to prosecute the war in Afghanistan and ongoing operations against al-Qaeda and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, including preparation of forces for deployment into those conflicts. The Department must, as well, continue many other operations necessary for the safety of human life or the protection of property (a copy of military operations necessary for national security will be supplied separately). These activities will be "excepted" from the effects of a lapse in appropriations: all other activities would need to be shut down in an orderly and deliberate fashion, including - with few exceptions - the cessation of temporary duty travel.

All military personnel performing active duty will continue in a normal duty status regardless of their affiliation with excepted or non-excepted activities. Military personnel will not be paid until such time as Congress makes appropriated funds available to compensate them for this period of service. Civilian personnel who are necessary to carry out or support excepted activities will also continue in normal duty status and also will not be paid until Congress makes appropriated funds available. Civilian employees paid from lapsed appropriations and who are not necessary to carry out or support excepted activities will be furloughed, i.e., placed in a non-work, non-pay status.

The last time a government shutdown of this kind occurred, in September 2013, the House and Senate unanimously passed a bill ensuring that military paychecks would continue. Similar effort this time around failed.

Regarding House and Senate members' pay, the Congressional Research Service notes that:

Article I, Section 6, of the U.S. Constitution authorizes compensation for Members of Congress
“ascertained by law, and paid out of the Treasury of the United States.” Adjustments are governed by the Ethics Reform Act of 1989 and the 27th Amendment to the Constitution.

This means members of Congress are paid regardless of the status of the federal budget. Although an eleventh-hour bill calling for withholding members' salaries was introduced before the shutdown, it failed to pass. Some members have announced they will voluntarily forego their salaries until government funding is restored, with some pledging to donate their pay to charity.

A vote in the U.S. Senate to end the shutdown by passing a short-term (three-week) spending bill was scheduled to take place at noon EST on 22 January.


Cronk, Terri Moon.  "DoD Issues Guidance for Potential Government Shutdown."   DoD News. 1 9 January 2018.

Kenning, Chris.  "U.S. Federal Workers Worry About Government Shutdown."   Reuters.  21 January 2018.

Kenny, Caroline.  "Members of Congress to Donate Pay During Shutdown."   CNN.  20 January 2018.

Sisk, Richard.  "Lawmakers Push Bills to Keep Paying Troops Amid Shutdown."   Military.com.  20 January 2018.

Wright, Austin.  "Obama to Sign Military Pay Bill."   Politico.  30 September 2013.

CBS News.  Government Shutdown: Senate to Vote 12 p.m. ET Monday to End Shutdown."   22 January 2018.

David Emery is a West Coast-based writer and editor with 25 years of experience fact-checking rumors, hoaxes, and contemporary legends.