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Ken Salazar, and his bolo tie, let loose

Deficit hawks might be alarmed by the news that Interior Secretary Ken Salazar plans to step down. Salazar, after all, was a tremendous bargain for taxpayers: Thanks to a constitutional provision, he was paid only $180,000 a year, 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, under the dodge known as “The Saxbe Fix,” he has to make do with the previous salary level.

It’s unlikely that his successor, whomever that may be, will face similar constraints, so the new guy (or gal?) will cost 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 during President Obama’s second term. That’s because we’ll wind up saving millions when we no longer have to pay for CIA Director Leon Panetta to fly back and forth from Washington to his California home.

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

Panetta announced this month that he’s stepping down. Ka-ching!

Ken Salazar, known for his bolo ties, demonstrates some sartorial flexibility. (Nikki Kahn/The Washington Post)

Makes the Salazar savings seem like a drop in the bucket.

That song again?

How can you tell when budget season is approaching? It’s when you start getting missives from the agencies explaining why their work is absolutely essential and costs taxpayers peanuts.

For example, we got a “fact sheet” from the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development titled “Ten Things You Should Know About the State Department.”

“We create American jobs,” the handout says, and “directly support 20 million U.S. jobs” by promoting open markets and such. They also provide emergency aid to Americans abroad, try to “make the world a safer place,” work to improve global health, development and the like.

The department has put out this information in the past, but it doesn’t seem to get through. The polls consistently show that strong majorities of Americans favor cutting aid programs and think foreign aid is up to 25 percent of the federal budget. (Actually, the cost for State and USAID combined is about 1 percent of the budget, the fact sheet says.)

As defense secretary, Robert Gates drew laughs when he quoted former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice as saying that “we have more people in military bands than they have in the Foreign Service.” The bands cost an estimated $500 million a year.

So maybe if the Foreign Service officers practiced and got better at playing tubas and timbales, they could wow visiting congressional delegations and boost the budget?

Across the pond

Think you know who the next U.S. ambassadors to Ireland and the United Kingdom will be?

Care to make it interesting?

The Irish bookmaking site Paddy Power is laying odds on the diplomatic lineup, and the numbers favor Washington lawyer and baseball booster (and reportedly pal of Vice President Biden) Mark Tuohey for Ireland (with a 4-7 chance at last check) and businessman Matthew Barzun for the U.K. (a practically sure bet, with a 10-11 shot).

The Irish press identified Tuohey — an Irish citizen with roots in old Tipperary who’s married to the sister of former White House chief of staff Bill Daley — as a front-runner for the job, which is vacant after Dan Rooney announced he was stepping down.

Barzun, a former executive at CNet and a longtime Obama supporter, has diplomatic experience already: His loyalty and largess were rewarded with an ambassadorship to Sweden from 2009 to 2011.

But the front-runners are hardly the only candidates, at least according to the bookies. One could back Vogue Editor Anna Wintour (6-4) for the London post, a possible appointment that’s had even the Prada-wearing set suddenly interested in foreign diplomacy.

But a betting man could make more by gambling on someone with far steeper odds: Among the long-shot contenders for the Dublin job are former president Bill Clinton and former senator Chris Dodd (both 10-1) and former Democratic National Committee chairman Terry McAuliffe (14-1).

There’s even the wee-est glimmer of a chance for two guys who, let’s face it, would probably make lousy diplomats: conservative talker Bill O’Reilly and late-night funnyman Conan O’Brien each have 500-1 odds.

Let loose, alas

A sad day for one of the Loop’s favorite Twitter accounts, Salazar’s Bolo Tie (@kensbolo), a feed purportedly written by the Western neckwear favored by the interior secretary. The poor cravat spent Wednesday penning lamentations about the the secretary’s decision to step down.

A few choice tweets:

“Now cracks the noble Western heart. Good night sweet DC. And racks of bolo ties wear thee to thy rest.”

And: “DC wore us down. The Western goodheartedness and the Bolo Tie’s free spirit was choked by the Beltway Bow Ties and Partisan Pocket Squares.”

With Emily Heil

The blog:
. Twitter: @InTheLoopWP.

Al Kamen, an award-winning columnist on the national staff of The Washington Post, created the “In the Loop” column in 1993.

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