President Barack Obama will return 5 percent of his salary to the Treasury to show solidarity with federal workers who must take unpaid leave due to deep spending cuts that went into effect last month, the White House said.
"The salary for the president, as with members of Congress, is set by law and cannot be changed," White House Secretary Jay Carney told reporters traveling with the president in Colorado and California on Wednesday. "However, the President has decided that to share in the sacrifice being made by public servants across the federal government that are affected by the sequester, he will contribute a portion of his salary back to the Treasury. He instructed his staff he wanted to do this when the sequester took effect."
The self-imposed 5 percent cut from the president's annual salary of $400,000 comes to $20,000, which would match the level of cuts to non-defense government agencies, according to Reuters.
If Congress fails to reach an agreement soon to avert the $85 billion in cuts, hundreds of thousands of workers could be forced to take unpaid leave. Obama continues to insist on paying spending cuts partly by higher tax revenues, to which Republicans do not agree.
Earlier this week, Carney said about 500 furlough notices had gone out to administration employees. "The White House is one of eleven components of the Executive Office of the President which is indeed, as we have said, subject to the sequester," he said Monday. "Within the Executive Office of the President, several offices have sent furlough notices to their staff, including to 480 employees of the Office of Management and Budget."
The White House statement about Obama giving up a portion of his salary comes the day after Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said he would give back a portion of his salary in an amount equal to pay lost by civilian employees. Hagel will return to the Treasury 14 days of his $199,700 annual salary, Pentagon said.
Sen. Mark Begich, an Alaska Democrat, has also said he would return part of his income to the Treasury, while not specifying how much of his $174,000 salary he would give up. Begich told Los Angeles Times 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," he said.
In the past, at least three president – Herbert Hoover, John F. Kennedy and George Washington – have given up part of their paychecks.