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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 Olin GrahamCongress punts fight over Dreamers to March Pence tours Rio Grande between US and Mexico GOP looks for Plan B after failure of immigration measures 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 Peter 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 Conner McCaskillMcCaskill welcomes ninth grandson in a row Dem group launches M ad buy to boost vulnerable senators Senate Dems block crackdown on sanctuary cities MORE (Mo.), Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeThe 14 GOP senators who voted against Trump’s immigration framework Prison sentencing bill advances over Sessions objections Grassley ‘incensed’ by Sessions criticism of proposed sentencing reform legislation MORE (R-Utah) and Jay RockefellerJohn (Jay) Davison 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 HagelCharles (Chuck) Timothy HagelIntel chief: Federal debt poses 'dire threat' to national security Hagel: Trump is 'an embarrassment' Tax cut complete, hawks push for military increase 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 NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonGingrich says arming teachers only long-term solution to school shootings Florida students turn to activism in wake of shooting CNN invites Trump to town hall with parents, students of Florida high school MORE (D-Fla.) and Barbara MikulskiBarbara Ann MikulskiDems ponder gender politics of 2020 nominee Robert Mueller's forgotten surveillance crime spree Clinton: White House slow-walking Russia sanctions 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 GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyPavlich: The claim Trump let the mentally ill get guns is a lie Congress fails miserably: For Asian-Americans, immigration proposals are personal attacks Grassley, Dems step up battle over judicial nominees MORE (R-Iowa), John McCainJohn Sidney McCainLawmakers worry about rise of fake video technology Democrats put Dreamers and their party in danger by playing hardball Trump set a good defense budget, but here is how to make it better MORE (R-Ariz.), Johnny IsaksonJohn (Johnny) Hardy IsaksonFrustrated Republicans accuse Paul of forcing pointless shutdown Budget deal is brimming with special tax breaks House funding bill includes bipartisan Medicare reforms MORE (R-Ga.), Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersDems ponder gender politics of 2020 nominee 2020 Dem contenders travel to key primary states After Florida school shooting, vows for change but no clear path forward MORE (I-Vt.), Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsUnder pressure, Trump shifts blame for Russia intrusion Overnight Tech: Judge blocks AT&T request for DOJ communications | Facebook VP apologizes for tweets about Mueller probe | Tech wants Treasury to fight EU tax proposal Overnight Regulation: Trump to take steps to ban bump stocks | Trump eases rules on insurance sold outside of ObamaCare | FCC to officially rescind net neutrality Thursday | Obama EPA chief: Reg rollback won't stand MORE (R-Ala.) and Angus KingAngus Stanley KingLawmakers are failing in duty to respond to the American people Congress fails miserably: For Asian-Americans, immigration proposals are personal attacks GOP senators float fallback plan to protect Dreamers 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 CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerCongress punts fight over Dreamers to March Drama surrounding Shulkin — what is the future of VA health care? Blackburn pushes back on potential Corker bid: 'I'm going to win' 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.