Biden in tough spot on voluntary pay cut

President Obama is donating a portion of his paycheck to the government, but Vice President Biden isn’t — at least so far.

Biden plans to take a pay cut if members of his staff are furloughed as a result of the sequester, his office said Friday.

“The vice president is committed to sharing the burden of the sequester with his staff,” a spokesperson for the vice president said in an e-mail.

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But the White House has not yet announced plans to furlough employees who work in the West Wing and or for the vice president's staff, creating a potentially awkward disconnect among top administration officials.

Obama and several other cabinet members rushed this week to day they would turn back some of their salary to the U.S. Treasury as a gesture of solidarity with federal workers facing furloughs. So far, Secretary of State John Kerry, Attorney General Eric Holder, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano have all said publicly that they would be giving back portions of their $200,000 salaries.

Some have flatly declared that they plan to return the equivalent of 14 days' pay — the maximum number of furlough days that employees and contractors are likely to face. That represents just under a $11,000 forfeiture. Others, like Biden, have said they will return a portion commiserate with the number of days their department's employees are furloughed.

But Biden's decision not to follow Obama's lead and return a flat portion of his salary — and the possibility that nobody on the vice president's staff will be furloughed — has already prompted speculation in the media that Biden was looking to sidestep the pay cut.

Unlike some members of the Obama Cabinet, he is not independently wealthy.

Obama’s net worth is estimated at between $3 million and $8 million and Secretary of State John Kerry’s wealth is in the range of $200 million according to The Hill's “50 wealthiest lawmakers: list.

Biden’s net worth in comparison, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, is around $230,000, an amount roughly equivalent to his annual salary.

During Friday's briefing with reporters, White House press secretary Jay Carney was asked why the vice president had not joined other cabinet officials in giving back.

“First of all, I'll refer you to the vice president's office,” Carney said. “Secondly, I would say that the president made clear, when the sequester was about to kick in, that he wanted to do this and asked his staff to work on a way for him to do it. But he — you know, we've made clear that this is a decision that everybody can make for themselves, whether they're cabinet secretaries, other members of the administration, or members of Congress could also make that choice.”

Top members of Congress have not followed the administration's lead and offered to take similar salary cuts. House Speaker John Boehner's (R-Ohio) office did not return a request for comment about whether he would take a pay cut.

Nor is Biden the only administration official to forgo the pay cut. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius does not plan to give back her pay, according to a report in The New York Times.

The concern for the White House is that such defections could undermine a gesture intended to endear the administration to public service workers — a key Democratic demographic — while intensifying pressure on congressional Republicans.

The White House was already forced to clarify that President Obama would not take his returned salary to the Treasury as a tax deduction, after conservative blogs suggested the president's contribution might not be as charitable as it initially seemed.


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