The president yesterday announced that he would return 5 percent of his salary to the Treasury Department. This is an effort to make common cause with federal employees who may have to take a similar paycut. This is the way this tone-deaf White House put it:
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.
The president makes $400,000 a year. In addition, he is provided living quarters on Pennsylvania Avenue, several limos, a very nice (Rose) garden, an (Oval) office and some very nice bedrooms, one named for a former occupant, the late President Lincoln. The president also gets a $50,000 expense account and an additional $100,000 for travel. The average government worker, I dare say, does not get quite that much for travel and might have to live in his or her own home, invariably not on Pennsylvania Avenue, necessitating a tiring and expensive commute.
But wait: This president is independently rich. He is rich by dint of his own talent and industry, but rich is rich –- and you probably ain’t. Obama has made a small fortune in book royalties, and last year the president and Michelle Obama reported an adjusted gross income of $789,674. Without having to Google it, I can say that the Obamas made more than your average federal employee –- even including overtime.
So the $20,000 Obama is kicking back to the Treasury is a pittance that will not be missed. (What’s the difference between $789,674 and $769,674? Will the kids not go to camp? Is Hawaii out of the question for next summer? ) But 5 percent for someone making $100,000 is a different story. That’s five grand, and it well could be camp or a vacation. It is not chump change.
Obama was once poor –- although young and poor is not the same as old and poor –- so I know he can appreciate what that 5 percent can mean. The president was apparently responding to the symbolism of him living like a pasha while asking others to sacrifice. I understand. But his taking a wee haircut on his salary is just a PR stunt from the White House that’s more insulting than it is empathetic.