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.