Sometimes even unremarkable things presidents do make news for the simple reason that presidents do them.
That’s the case with President Barack Obama’s announcement that he will return 5 percent of his salary to the U.S. Treasury as an act of solidarity with federal workers who face pay cuts — in some cases vastly more severe — as a result of the federal sequester.
Though laudable, the president’s act is hardly original. Previous presidents have taken similar actions, and a handful of members of Congress already are giving up a small percentage of their paychecks.
The president’s decision came a day after Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said they would give up part of their paychecks because some 700,000 civilian Defense Department workers (including many at Fort Riley) will endure mandatory furloughs in the coming months.
In. the U.S. Senate, members recently approved a nonbinding resolution to establish a reserve fund into which members are welcome to donate 20 percent of their salaries and office budgets to soften the impact of the sequester.
These acts are, of course, gestures. They’re nice, even if they don’t require much sacrifice (President Obama is giving up $20,000 of his annual presidential salary of $400,000), and the sums to be returned to the Treasury are infinitesimal in terms of this year’s deficit. That would be true even if the president gave back 20 percent of his salary, an amount closer to the pay loss stemming from furloughs.
We hope President Obama and other federal officials aren’t counting on their modest sacrifices to offset the sequester, whose effects are just beginning to be felt in communities across the nation. If they want to be useful, they would return early from their contrived two-week recess and resolve the differences that resulted in the sequester.
The sequester — mandatory spending cuts of $85 billion from federal programs this year — began taking effect March 1 because of lawmakers’ inability to compromise on budgets. The sequester is causing layoffs as well as furloughs and is expected to undermine the nation’s economic recovery.
Though the sequester’s cuts are under way, they can be stopped at any time if lawmakers from both parties not only agree that there are better alternatives but adopt some of them. In addition to improving their image among the American public, those lawmakers who are donating part of their pay to support furloughed workers could enjoy full paychecks again.