WASHINGTON (AP) — Sharing a bit of budget pain, President Barack Obama will return 5 percent of his salary each month to the Treasury in a show of solidarity with federal workers smarting from government-wide spending cuts.

Obama’s decision grew out of a desire to share in the sacrifice that government employees are making, a White House official said Wednesday. Hundreds of thousands of workers could be forced to take unpaid leave — known as furloughs — if Congress does not reach an agreement soon to undo the cuts.

The president is demonstrating that he will be paying a price, too, as the White House warns of dire economic consequences from the $85 billion in cuts that started to hit federal programs last month after Congress failed to stop them. In the weeks since, the administration has faced repeated questions about how the White House itself will be affected. The cancellation of White House tours in particular has drawn mixed reactions.

A 5 percent cut from the president’s salary of $400,000 per year amounts to $1,667 per month.

The move will be retroactive to March 1 — the day the cuts started to kick in — and will remain in effect for the rest of fiscal 2013, said the White House official, who was not authorized to discuss the decision publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

The notice followed a similar move a day earlier by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, who committed to taking a salary cut equal to 14 days’ pay — the same level of cut that other Defense Department civilians are being forced to take. As many as 700,000 civilians will have to take one unpaid day off each week for up to 14 weeks in the coming months.

Obama isn’t the first president to give up part of his paycheck. Herbert Hoover put his salary in a separate account, then divvied it up, giving part to charity and part to employees he felt were underpaid, according to an interview he gave in 1937. John F. Kennedy donated his presidential salary to various charities, according to Stacey Chandler, an archivist at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library.

George Washington refused pay during the latter part of his military career, according to researchers at Mount Vernon. He tried to refuse a presidential salary, but Congress required that the position pay $25,000.

Among lawmakers, Sen. Mark Begich, an Alaska Democrat, said Wednesday that he, too, would return part of his income to the Treasury, although he did not specify how much of his $174,000 salary he would give up. Begich said his office started furloughing staffers in mid-March and more than half of his staff will have their pay cut this year.

“This won’t solve our spending problem on its own, but I hope it is a reminder to Alaskans that I am willing to make the tough cuts, wherever they may be, to get our spending under control,” Begich said.

A number of lawmakers have from time to time taken steps to show they’re not immune as the federal government looks to tighten its belt. An aide to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said McConnell returns a substantial part of his salary to the Treasury every year. The Senate this month adopted by voice vote a symbolic amendment permitting — but not requiring — senators to give 20 percent of their salaries to the Treasury as part of the Democrats’ budget resolution. Also in March, as the spending cuts started bearing down, the GOP-controlled House imposed an 8.2 percent reduction on lawmakers’ personal office budgets.

The White House, after declining for weeks to provide specifics for how the president’s own staff had been affected, said Monday that 480 workers on the budget staff had been notified they may have to take days off without pay.

Obama’s press secretary, Jay Carney, wouldn’t say whether notices have gone out to Obama aides outside the Office of Management and Budget, including senior staff in the West Wing. But he said pay cuts remained a possibility for additional White House employees if a budget deal to undo the cuts isn’t reached.

“Everybody at the White House and the broader (executive office) is dealing with the consequences — both, in many cases, in their own personal lives, but in how we work here at the White House,” Carney said. He added that the White House also has been trying to cut costs by slowing down hiring, scaling back supply purchases, curtailing staff travel, reducing the use of air cards for mobile Internet access and reviewing contracts to look for savings.

Like lawmakers’ pay, Obama’s salary is set by law, so he must accept the funds and then write a check to the Treasury for the portion he plans to relinquish. Obama’s decision, first reported by The New York Times, won’t affect the other perquisites afforded the president, from a mansion staffed with servants to the limousines, helicopters and Boeing 747 jumbo jet at every U.S. president’s beck and call. The White House did not say whether Vice President Joe Biden would make a similar gesture.

The 5 percent that Obama will hand back mirrors the 5 percent cut that domestic agencies took when the reductions went into effect. The Pentagon’s budget took an 8 percent hit. Every federal agency is grappling with spending cuts, which the White House has warned could affect everything from commercial airline flights to classrooms and meat inspections.

The cuts were written into a 2011 deficit-reduction measure as a trigger to force future action. The idea was that lawmakers, eager to avert the consequences of bluntly slashing $1 trillion over a decade, would have no choice but to come together to find smarter ways to reduce federal spending.

But the two parties were at odds over whether more tax revenues were needed as part of the solution, and an intense campaign by Obama and his Cabinet to illustrate how the cuts could affect critical programs failed to spur an agreement by the March 1 deadline. As the cuts started taking effect, lawmakers turned to other issues, including an increase in the national debt ceiling, and there are no signs that a deal to undo the cuts retroactively will come anytime soon.

(Photo: AP)

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9 thoughts on “In Solidarity: Obama to Return 5 Percent of Salary to Treasury

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    • Oh….this is really really big of him, and is a huge sacrifice. He will return about $2,000 per month but I do not think he pays utility bills, cable, phone, or food, so basically, all the money that he won’t put into his savings account will be returned. That is nothing for a family that is deep in debt already. This is his smoke and mirror routine to make the American people think he is really doing something for us. What a joke he is to think we will fall for his token of good faith.

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  3. James on said:

    First – The sequester was going to happen no matter what the President did. At some point in time one of two thinks must happen. The spending must stop or the government must get more revenue from the people (taxes), you can’t have both. Second – What I was attempting to point out is that President put forth a noble gesture by giving back some of his pay (as well as the congress and senate) but in all honesty, these noble gestures are meaningless. When you make a lot of money 5% is nothing compared to what ever other american will suffer through. My wife will be furloughed about 15-20 days and I’m on disability. Taking 5% of her pay every month would cause my family serious hardship but we will be ok. Some other folks will take it a little harder. Now, while the debate continues in Washington, I don’t believe the President will be faced with eviction, or having his utility services discontinued. Falling on the sword to make others feel better about their situation only works if something good comes from your noble gesture.

  4. The actions of the House and Senate is a nice move and consideration and all that, but what does not make ANY sense to me, is that their salaries are set by law, as they must take a salary. What they SHOULD do, is implement a new Bill that forces them to take a cut in pay across the board. I mean with over $5,000,000 spent on water (just for the House), I am so sure they can give up so much more. Have they performed their job to the best of their ability? Perhaps some of them, but definitely not all.
    True, it is not a lot of money and will not solve all the economic woes, but at least SOME of our government officials are showing a sign of good statesmanship by giving up part of their pay. I know I cannot afford to give up 5% to 20% of my salary. Of course, I do not earn near as much, but when you are counting on a set amount each month, it could hurt. Alternatively, with their highly over-paid salaries, I am sure most of them will probably be able to use it as a tax write-off.
    We, The People should be doing more than calling and writing them about signing Conyers’s Bill.

  5. James Hardnick on said:

    While the Presidents gesture is noble, we must all realize that he makes $400,000 dollars per year. He doesn’t pay for housing, utilities, food, entertainment, or travel. So his return of aproximately $2,000 per month is really nothing. Unless I’m missing something, I don’t believe the President really understands.

    • Well James, I disagree, as he would not have fought Congress so hard to keep the sequester from happening at all. I believe he fought hard to do so much more for the nation because I think he actually DOES understand the implications of what it means to pay for life’s necessities such as food, medication, fuel and electricity.
      Congress could have and SHOULD have ended the sequester just by signing Conyers’ Bill that simply stated: “End the sequester.” However, if Congress did that then it would mean a productive Presidency for Obama, and we just could not have that.

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