(Karen Bleier/AFP/Getty Images)

Deficit hawks might be alarmed by the news today that Interior Secretary Ken Salazar plans to step down. Salazar, after all, was a tremendous bargain for the American taxpayer: because of a constitutional quirk, he was only paid $180,000 annually, about 20 grand less than most other Cabinet secretaries (the Constitution bars legislators from holding positions in the executive branch for which they raised the salaries, and Salazar voted to hike Cabinet pay when he was in the Senate, so he has to make do with the previous salary level).

It’s unlikely that his successor, whoever that might be, will face similar constraints, so the new guy (or gal!) will cost us a bit more.

But there’s reason for those who fear for the nation’s debt to take heart. According to the Loop’s back-of-the-envelope calculations, the federal purse will still come out way ahead in the changing of the Cabinet guard in President Obama’s second term. That’s because we’ll wind up saving millions when we no longer have to pay for Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to fly back and forth from Washington to his California home.

It’s not clear what the final tally for Panetta’s cross-country commute — made on a military jet, a mode of transportation required for his sensitive security-crucial position — will be, but it was estimated at $800,000 back in April of last year, and the bill has been steadily growing since then.

Luckily for debt-watchers, Panetta announced this month that he’s stepping down. Ka-ching!

Makes the savings we got from paying Salazar so little look like a drop in the bucket.