President Barack Obama said Wednesday that he will return five percent of his salary in an act of solidarity with thousands of federal employees across the country who will be furloughed as part of the sequester budget cuts Congress failed to stop earlier this year. He is the latest in a growing list of public officials willing to take a small hit financial hit for the larger blow federal workers will feel in the months ahead.
Yesterday Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel revealed his intentions to take a 20 percent pay cut. This is the same pay cut that thousands of Defense Department workers will feel in the coming months as they are asked to stay home from work one day a week for fourteen weeks. Deputy Defense Secretary Ash Carter had already announced that he would also give up a portion of his salary before Hagel was even confirmed.
Obama’s salary is set at $400,000 a year. A five percent cut would remove a $20,000 wedge from that total. Five percent is the same reduction level that non-defense departments took when the sequester budget cuts began, so, while five percent may be less than Hagel’s 20 percent, the sentiment is the same. Besides, the President’s salary is larger, meaning he is giving back a smaller piece of a larger pie. He will write a check to the Treasury each month for the remainder of this fiscal year, starting this month.
Neither public figure will feel pain as a result of their gesture. Both are wealthy men, and much of their income does not come from their government salaries. Obama brings in large royalties from his books, to the tune of several hundred thousand dollars. Still, the Obamas are new millionaires. Much of Congress consists of old millionaires whose pockets run much deeper.
Speaking of Congress, South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, Alaska Senator Mark Begich, Utah Senator Mike Lee, and Washington Senator Jay Rockefeller have all expressed their intentions to give up a portion of their salaries, but, given that a majority of the Senate passed a measure last month urging lawmakers to take a pay cut in solidarity with thousands of other Americans, that list of names should be much larger. Congress is the chamber of government responsible for the automatic budget cuts, but it appears the least willing to own up to it.
Obama campaigned heavily against the sequester and proved unable to stop it. The President is now offering up five percent of his salary as a result. Who’s next?
[Image by White House (Chuck Kennedy) (The White House official photostream ) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons]