WASHINGTON -- In the event of a government shutdown, hundreds of thousands of federal workers would be furloughed, not knowing if or when they'd get paid. Their paychecks would ultimately depend upon the benevolence of a fractious Congress, which decides whether to pass legislation retroactively paying workers for their lost time.

But at least 535 civil servants in Washington don't have to worry about missed mortgage payments or mounting credit card debt due to a shutdown: the very members of Congress who threaten to grind government to a halt.

The salaries of Congress members, like the president, come from a pool of mandatory funds and aren't subject to the whims of lawmakers. If a shutdown happens, their checks keep coming, no matter what.

As a report issued this week by the Congressional Research Service puts it, "Due to their constitutional responsibilities and a permanent appropriation for congressional pay, Members of Congress are not subject to furlough."

This cruel irony isn't lost on the federal workers who stand to lose pay but for an act of Congress, most of whose members earn $174,000 a year.

"When the government shuts down, employees don't get paid," Colleen Kelley, head of the National Treasury Employees Union, which represents 150,000 federal workers, said Friday. "No matter how much Congress does not work, it still does get paid."

Elizabeth Lytle, a 55-year-old Environmental Protection Agency employee from Illinois, said it's unjust that "blowhards" on Capitol Hill would continue to get paid while middle-class workers are thrown into uncertainty. Lytle has already taken six unpaid furlough days this year and resorted to tapping her retirement funds for dental work.

"I know that Congress is what they consider essential personnel -- they get paid regardless," Lytle said. "To me, that's not fair. That is not fair at all."

The GOP-controlled House of Representatives passed a bill last week that made government funding contingent upon defunding the Affordable Care Act. On Friday, after days of showmanship by Obamacare opponents, the Democratic-controlled Senate sent the funding legislation back to the House after stripping the Obamacare provision. It's now up to House leaders whether to force a shutdown.

During the last shutdown, in 1995 and 1996, Congress later passed legislation that made workers whole for the days they were furloughed. This time around, union leaders and workers aren't sure Congress will be so merciful in an era of budget squabbles, even if members themselves are guaranteed to get paid.

As George Schlaffer, an Internal Revenue Service agent in Baltimore, told HuffPost yesterday, "The environment we're in now, I'm not so confident they'd want to pay us -- it's not a friendly environment…. My confidence level on us getting those funds are very low."

Also on HuffPost:

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  • This video image provided by House Television shows Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) and House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, on the floor of the House on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2012.

  • Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) and House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, on the floor of the House on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2012.

  • Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohion) seems to fight back tears while listening to Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard address a joint meeting of the U.S. Congress from the floor of the House of Representatives at the U.S. Capitol March 9, 2011 in Washington, DC. Gillard emphasized the long and strong bond between her country and the U.S.

  • Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) seems to fight back tears while listening to Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard address a joint meeting of the U.S. Congress from the floor of the House of Representatives at the U.S. Capitol March 9, 2011 in Washington, DC. Gillard emphasized the long and strong bond between her country and the United States.

  • Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) seems to fight back tears while listening to Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard address a joint meeting of the U.S. Congress from the floor of the House of Representatives at the U.S. Capitol March 9, 2011 in Washington, DC. Gillard emphasized the long and strong bond between her country and the United States.

  • Fighting back tears as he recounted his rise from humble beginnings to the presumed Speaker of the House, House Minority Leader Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) addresses the Republican National Congressional Committee's midterm election results watch party at the Grand Hyatt hotel November 2, 2010 in Washington, DC. Major news organizations have said that the Republicans will win enough seats to take control of the House of Representatives.

  • Fighting back tears as he recounted his rise from humble beginnings to the presumed Speaker of the House, House Minority Leader Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) addresses the Republican National Congressional Committee's midterm election results watch party at the Grand Hyatt hotel November 2, 2010 in Washington, DC. Major news organizations have said that the Republicans will win enough seats to take control of the House of Representatives.

  • House Republican leader John Boehner, R-OH, fights back tears as he addresses the National Republican Congressional Committee Election Night Results Watch event in Washington, DC, on November 2, 2010. An emotional John Boehner, the presumed speaker-elect of the US House of Representatives, told fellow Republicans at the victory party that Americans have sent President Obama message to 'change course'.

  • Fighting back tears as he recounted his rise from humble beginnings to the presumed Speaker of the House, House Minority Leader Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) addresses the Republican National Congressional Committee's midterm election results watch party at the Grand Hyatt hotel November 2, 2010 in Washington, DC. Major news organizations have said that the Republicans will win enough seats to take control of the House of Representatives.

  • Astronaut Neil Armstrong (L) recievces the Congressional Gold Medal from Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) during a ceremony in the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol November 16, 2011 in Washington, DC. The gold medals were presented to Armstrong and his fellow crew members from Apollo 11, Michael Collins and Buzz Aldrin, and to astronaut and former U.S. Senator John Glenn (D-Ohio), the first American to orbit the Earth.

  • Astronaut Neil Armstrong receives the Congressional Gold Medal from Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) during a ceremony in the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol November 16, 2011 in Washington, DC. The gold medals were presented to Armstrong and his fellow crew members from Apollo 11, Michael Collins and Buzz Aldrin, and to astronaut and former U.S. Senator John Glenn (D-Ohio), the first American to orbit the Earth.

  • House Speaker John Boehner <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ufYmnD3fhfk&feature=related" target="_hplink">chokes up in an interview on CBS</a>.

  • Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) wipes his eyes as outgoing Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) prepares to hand over over the speaker's gavel following his election in the House chamber January 5, 2011 in Washington, DC.