09/24/2013 04:53 pm ET Updated Nov 24, 2013

Congress Won't Feel Effects of Government Shutdown

With the October 1 deadline rapidly approaching, the threat of government shutdown looms large over the nation.

If Republicans and Democrats can't come to an agreement and do what most U.S. adults learned to do in their early 20's -pay their bills -- the first effects of the shutdown will be felt in the form of furloughs.

In the 1995 shutdown, 800,000 federal employees where furloughed for 5 full days between November 13-19. A second partial shutdown saw 284,000 workers furloughed for 21 days between December 15, 1995, and January 6, 1996.

In shutdown periods, furloughed employees are not paid during their leave. They can be paid retroactively, but in today's market that is hardly a sure thing.

Members of Congress, however, are not subject to furloughs. In fact, they are paid business as usual during a government shutdown. What's more, the famed congressional retirement plans, benefits, and perks remain unaffected as well.

So, while a yet-to-be-determined amount of federal workers are facing the potential reality of unpaid leave, Congress can continue to bicker and bluster knowing that the check is in the mail.

But just how big is that check?

The full cost of legislative spending is almost impossible to calculate, the best we can do is make a rough estimate. Pay for all 541 members comes out $95.8 million per year. Couple that with the $4.66 billion spent per year on benefits and perks (travel, security, per diem) and the $30 million spent on pensions and you get a $4.7858 billion.

In the spirit of governmental spending, lets just call it $4.8 billion.

After applying a bit of basic math, we find every day that furloughed workers spend on unpaid leave, Congress members will:

  • Spend over $13 million on perks, pay, and benefits. That's over $541,000 every hour.
  • Be paid over $262,000, an average of $485 for each member.

Perhaps if our lawmakers had something on the line, rather than playing high stakes poker with someone else's chips, we could get a deal done and avoid another government shutdown.