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Obama's 5-percent pay cut: A meaningful gesture?
The president offers a symbolic gesture to show solidarity with workers affected by sequester budget cuts
 
President Obama's self-induced sequester: It's the thought that counts, right?
President Obama's self-induced sequester: It's the thought that counts, right? Joe Raedle/Getty Images

President Obama is giving back five percent of his $400,000 salary this year, in a show of solidarity with federal workers being furloughed due to the sequester budget cuts. The president reportedly has already written the first of what will be $20,000 in checks to the Treasury. Administration officials announced Obama's decision a day after Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter said they were returning a share of their salaries, too, to mirror the pay that civilian employees in their department, one of the hardest hit, will lose when they are furloughed for 14 days between March, when the sequester took effect, and the end of the fiscal year in September.

The money Obama is sending back won't solve the country's budget problems, of course. "Given that the federal government spends between $300 to $400 million an hour," notes Martin Austermuhle at DCist, "Obama's contribution would fund, well, not even a second's worth of government work." Still, it's meaningful as a show of solidarity. "The real news," says Dan Amira at New York, "is that most members of Congress — the people (many of them millionaires) directly responsible for the sequester — aren't doing this, too."

Obama deserves some credit here, argues Bridgette P. LaVictoire at Lez Get Real. "The gesture may be more important than anything else anyone's doing in Washington" to confront this problem. "Negotiations between the House Republicans and the Obama Administration pretty much broke down ahead of the cuts going into force." Meanwhile, the sequester's cuts are being felt all over — federal courts are cutting hours, "causing problems for case loads;" workers at missile-testing ranges are getting cut; cruise passengers are waiting for hours due to belt-tightening at Customs. If nothing else, Obama is calling attention to "the lack of work being done by the Republicans in the House of Representatives" to fix things.

Please, this is chump change, says the New York Daily News in an editorial, for "a man who has no worries about living expenses" and has plenty of other income (from book royalties, for example) besides. Instead of shallow gestures, "Obama would earn full pay by leading the way." Even if $20,000 is a "real sacrifice," says Erika Johnsen at Hot Air, this is "a politically inexpensive, empty gesture designed to make it look like the president is a sympathetic yet ultimately powerless pawn in the sequestration drama, when the man not only signed off on the thing, but deliberately tried to make it all as painful as possible and refused to get on board with any mitigating efforts."

"Yes, when you're president, and set for life financially, a $20,000 giveback to Uncle Sam really doesn't cost you much of anything," says Linda Feldmann at The Christian Science Monitor. Obama will make that much back in five minutes of the first paid speech he makes after leaving office. Still, with Hagel and Carter returning some of their paychecks, "It became increasingly clear that Obama had to do this. A bandwagon has been forming, and he had to jump on, especially as the day draws near when some federal workers begin to lose pay with forced days off." It was time for Obama to take this stand.

 
Harold Maass is a contributing editor at TheWeek.com. He has been writing for The Week since the 2001 launch of the U.S. print edition. Harold has worked for a variety of news outlets, including The Miami HeraldFox News, and ABC News.

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