Few senators sacrifice pay amid cuts

Few senators sacrifice pay amid cuts

Only a few senators are planning to forfeit a portion of their salaries to charity or the U.S. Treasury while sequestration is in effect, according to a survey conducted by The Hill.

The Senate last month passed a measure urging members of the upper chamber to forgo 20 percent of their salary during sequestration. Most senators, however, are keeping quiet on whether they will follow through.

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During a marathon session of budget votes, the Senate approved by voice vote an amendment from Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey GrahamSenate panel questions Lynch on alleged FBI interference The Hill's Whip List: Senate ObamaCare repeal bill Judiciary Committee to continue Russia probe after Mueller meeting MORE (R-S.C.) calling on lawmakers to donate 20 percent of their pay to charity or return it to the U.S. Treasury.

In his floor speech, Graham noted that about 500,000 to 600,000 federal employees will be furloughed because of sequestration and that senators should “feel what other people are feeling.”

Yet in a survey of Senate offices by The Hill, only Graham and Sens. Mark BegichMark BegichPerez creates advisory team for DNC transition The future of the Arctic 2016’s battle for the Senate: A shifting map MORE (D-Alaska), Claire McCaskillClaire McCaskillSenators question need for HHS cyber office Overnight Cybersecurity: Obama DHS chief defends Russian hack response | Trump huddles on grid security | Lawmakers warned about cyber threat to election systems We must protect our most vulnerable from financial fraudsters MORE (Mo.), Mike LeeMike LeeGOP at decisive moment on Planned Parenthood Trump: ‘I cannot imagine’ GOP senators don’t back healthcare bill Trump called Cruz to press him on ObamaCare repeal bill: report MORE (R-Utah) and Jay RockefellerJay RockefellerOvernight Tech: Trump nominates Dem to FCC | Facebook pulls suspected baseball gunman's pages | Uber board member resigns after sexist comment Trump nominates former FCC Dem for another term Obama to preserve torture report in presidential papers MORE (D-W.Va.) have indicated they would give up some of their take-home pay.

In a recent press release, Begich — who is up for reelection in 2014 — said he will be voluntarily returning a portion of his salary to the Treasury this year. 

Several other senators said they already donate generously to charity, while the majority of offices gave no response at all.

Senators make $174,000 annually. To fully comply with the Graham measure for a complete calendar year, members would return $34,000 to charity or the Treasury. To most people, that’s a lot of money; but for some members, that is chump change. About half of the lawmakers in Congress are millionaires.

Budget votes are nonbinding, and the fiscal blueprint passed by the Democratic-led Senate will not become law, but member salaries have drawn added attention during a time of belt-tightening across Washington. 

While congressional offices are subject to the across-the-board spending reductions as part of sequestration, lawmaker salaries are exempt.

The very passage of the budget by a slim majority on March 23 ensured that senators would continue receiving their salaries. Congress enacted a provision earlier this year stipulating that if either the House or Senate failed to pass a budget resolution, the pay of its members would be withheld.

“We should lead by example,” Graham told The Hill before introducing his amendment. “Every member of Congress should give up 20 percent of their pay to the charity of their choice or wherever they want to spend the money, just get it out of their hands, their account, because that’s what they’re doing to the private sector.”

Graham mentioned the example of Ashton Carter, the deputy Defense secretary who told a Senate committee in February that he would voluntarily forgo 20 percent of his salary if his employees were subject to furloughs because of sequestration.

The Pentagon on Tuesday announced Defense Secretary Chuck HagelChuck HagelLobbying World The US just attacked Syria. So where's Congress? Senators tear into Marines on nude photo scandal MORE will also follow suit by writing a check to the Treasury.

Graham spokesman Kevin Bishop said the senator donated 20 percent of his salary and that he had spoken about the Wounded Warriors or the American Cancer Society charities as likely to receive his contribution. Bishop declined to comment on what other senators are choosing to do.

Other senators, including McCaskill, Bill NelsonBill NelsonSenate panel unveils aviation bill with consumer protections, drone fix Driverless cars speed onto political agenda Biden leaves options on table for another White House bid MORE (D-Fla.) and Barbara MikulskiBarbara MikulskiBipartisan friendship is a civil solution to political dysfunction Dems press for paycheck fairness bill on Equal Pay Day After 30 years celebrating women’s history, have we made enough progress? MORE (D-Md.), have addressed or introduced proposals calling for congressional salaries to be subject to sequestration. But some top lawmakers have criticized the repeated attempts to target member salaries. 

“I don’t think we should do it; I think we should respect the work we do,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told reporters in February. “I think it’s necessary for us to have the dignity of the job that we have rewarded.”

In The Hill survey, spokesmen for Rockefeller and Lee said they planned to donate a portion of their salaries, while aides to Sens. Chuck GrassleyChuck GrassleySenate panel questions Lynch on alleged FBI interference The Hill's 12:30 Report GOP senator surprises top Dem with birthday cake MORE (R-Iowa), John McCainJohn McCainFrustrated Dems say Obama botched Russia response Coats: Trump seemed obsessed with Russia probe The Hill's Whip List: Senate ObamaCare repeal bill MORE (R-Ariz.), Johnny IsaksonJohnny IsaksonGeorgia special election runoff: live coverage House approves VA bill, sending it to Trump Senate backs bill making it easier to fire VA employees MORE (R-Ga.), Bernie SandersBernie SandersSanders: GOP healthcare bill is a 'moral outrage' GOP at decisive moment on Planned Parenthood Chaffetz: Threats against lawmakers should be taken seriously MORE (I-Vt.), Jeff SessionsJeff SessionsJustice Department developing strategies to shut down ‘sanctuary cities’: report Sally Yates slams Sessions on criminal justice reform Preet Bharara emailed DOJ about phone call from Trump: report MORE (R-Ala.) and Angus KingAngus KingZinke hits Dems for delaying Interior nominees Angus King: I’m sure Flynn will 'appear before the committee one way or another' GOP senators pleased with Ivanka Trump meeting on family leave, child tax credits MORE (I-Maine) said their bosses already contribute some of their income to charity.

“I asked Sen. Grassley and he said that he and Mrs. Grassley already ‘more than tithe’ to their church and charities, so this amendment won’t affect their giving,” Grassley spokeswoman Jill Gerber said.

An aide to Sen. Bob CorkerBob CorkerPolicymakers forget duty to protect taxpayers from financial failures Overnight Defense: GOP chairman moves ahead with 0B defense bill | Lawmakers eye 355 ship navy | Senate panel seeks answers on shoot down of Syrian jet Overnight Cybersecurity: Trump tweetstorm on Russia probe | White House reportedly pushing to weaken sanctions bill | Podesta to testify before House Intel MORE (R-Tenn.) said he has never accepted a Senate salary and instead gives his pay to the Community Foundation of Greater Chattanooga, which distributes it to local charities. Corker is worth at least $19.6 million, according to financial reports from 2011. 

A Sessions spokesman noted that as the top Republican on the Senate Budget Committee, he had voluntarily cut his committee office budget by 15 percent to demonstrate his commitment to reduced federal spending. Other members of both the House and Senate have also previously announced voluntary cuts to their office budgets or that they have returned part of their salaries to the Treasury.

Updated at 10:10 a.m.: Sen. McCaskill's office said she has also committed to giving a portion of her salary to charity or to the Treasury.

— Taylor Seale, Zach DeRitis, Noura Alfadl-Andreasson, Amrita Khalid and Alex Lazar contributed.