WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama will return 5 percent of his salary each month to the Treasury in a show of solidarity with federal workers smarting from government-wide spending cuts, the White House said Wednesday.
Obama's decision grew out of a desire to share in the sacrifice that government employees are making, said a White House official, who was not authorized to discuss the decision publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity. Hundreds of thousands of workers could be forced to take unpaid leave - known as furloughs - if Congress does not reach an agreement to undo the cuts.
The president is demonstrating that he will be paying a price, too, as the White House warns of dire economic consequences from the $85 billion in cuts that started to hit federal programs last month after Congress failed to stop them. In the weeks since, the administration has faced repeated questions about how the White House itself will be affected. The cancellation of White House tours has drawn mixed reactions.
A 5 percent cut from the president's salary of $400,000 per year amounts to $1,667 per month. The move will be retroactive to the March 1 - the day the cuts started to kick in - and will remain in effect for the rest of 2013, the White House official said.
The notice followed a similar move a day earlier by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, who committed to taking a salary cut equal to 14 days' pay - the same level of cut that other Defense Department civilians are being forced to take. As many as 700,000 civilians will have to take one unpaid day off each week for up to 14 weeks in the coming months.
On Monday, the White House said 480 workers on the president's 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.
Every federal agency is grappling with spending cuts. Carney said 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.