Breaking Open the Presidential Piggy Bank

Screen Shot 2013-04-03 at 1.52.37 PM - Obama will return part of his salary to the government

The Obama Administration announced that the president will begin returning five percent of his salary to the Treasury Department as a show of solidarity with government workers being laid off or furloughed as part of the budget cuts known as “the sequester” that kicked in March 1.

The New York Times reports that Obama announced his decision a day after new Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and his Deputy Ashton B. Carter said they planned to return five percent of their salaries as well.

Bloomberg notes that the president’s salary—$400,000—can’t be changed during Obama’s term, so the president will cut a monthly $20,000 check to the U.S. government after he gets paid.

The 5 percent figure roughly coincides with cuts to non-essential (non-defense) spending. The Times speculates Obama’s move may pressure other lawmakers to follow suit in expressing solidarity with workers.

But it’s not just furloughed government workers the sequester cuts are affecting. The AP reported Wednesday that the $85 billion in cuts are squeezing aid programs for the poor at a time when the poverty level is spiking to a level not seen in this country since the mid 1960s. Approximately 20 percent of American children now qualify as poor and almost that number—one in six Americans overall—are living below the poverty line.

So while it’s all well and good to show solidarity for furloughed government workers, Obama would do well to keep in mind the shrinking middle class and wealth gap that began accelerating under President Bush and continued to accelerate under his first term is a far bigger problem—one whose impact could last generations if not addressed soon—than any kind of 5 percent budget cut we may be facing in the near term.


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