Obama’s Cabinet sequester salary sacrifices — but don’t worry, they’ll be OK


Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel kicked off a trend. (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)

However, it’s worth noting that some of President Obama’s Cabinet secretaries can more easily afford to participate in the phenomenon we’ve dubbed “sacrifice solidarity” than others. For most, giving up a chunk of their nearly $200,000 annual pay amounts to little more than lost latte money. But for a few, it’s a serious bit of cash relative to their bank-account balances.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, who kicked off the trend by being the first to announce he’d magnanimously relinquish his salary, is a multi-millionaire and the third-richest member of the Cabinet (see the chart below for figures). The two richest members of the Cabinet soon joined him: Secretary of State John Kerry, who is far and away the wealthiest of the bunch, and Attorney General Eric Holder. So did Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan (fifth wealthiest), Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius (seventh), and Treasury Secretary Jack Lew (ninth).

It may be hard to keep up with those Jonses: One of the poorest members of the Cabinet is Vice President Biden, who’s said to be considering whether or not to forgo some of his $231,000 salary.

We should note that it’s difficult to precisely rank Cabinet members by wealth, since their assets and debts are disclosed in ranges. For these rankings, we used the averages of the ranges, based on the most recent forms submitted to the Office of Government Ethics and analysis by the Center for Responsive Politics. We also omitted acting secretaries and those whose replacements’ nominations are pending in the Senate.

And as wealthy as the Cabinet is now, it’s poised to turn into an even more exclusive club. If hotel scion Penny Pritzker gets the nod for Commerce secretary, as is expected, the group will have its first billionaire. And Obama’s recent picks — Ernest Moniz, a physicist who sits on multiple boards, to be the new Energy secretary, and REI CEO Sally Jewell for Interior — are quite comfortable, too.

Basically, they’ll fit right in.

Here’s a list of Cabinet secretaries and their net-worth ranges.

Secretary of State John Kerry $184.2 - $287.7 million

Attorney General Eric Holder $3.8 - $8.4 million

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel $2.8 - $6 million

Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki $2.2 - $5.9 million

HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan $1.5 - $6.1 million

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack $1.2 - $5.6 million

HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius $502,000 - $4.9 million

Education Secretary Arne Duncan $1.3 - $3.4 million

Secretary of Treasury Jack Lew $748,000 - $1.7 million

Vice President Biden $39,000 - $806,000

DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano $93,000 - $695,000

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood -(negative) $508,000 - $106,000

Emily Heil is the co-author of the Reliable Source and previously helped pen the In the Loop column with Al Kamen.

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