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Obama Should Refuse His Salary

- November 29, 2010

So Obama “has proposed”:http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2010/11/obama-seeks-pay-freeze-for-federal-workers/67144/ a pay freeze for federal (civilian, natch) employees. Some see this as a dumb move, absent some concession from the GOP. Here is “David Kurtz”:http://www.talkingpointsmemo.com/archives/2010/11/negotiating_against_yourself.php?ref=fpblg:

bq. “Government goes first” usually means “Democrats go first” in these negotiations. Republicans then use that concession to redefine the “middle” as further to the right — at which point Democrats concede again and the whole cycle repeats itself.

Matt Yglesias agrees and also “notes”:http://yglesias.thinkprogress.org/2010/11/pay-freeze/ (correctly, in my view) that there is a a “political messaging gambit” at work here.

Like Yglesias, I agree that such gambits rarely work, but since we’re planning the messaging game, here’s my proposal, which I think should substitute for the pay freeze:

Obama should announce that he will refuse his salary. (Or give it back to the Treasury. Or give it to charity. Or whatever works — constitutionally, legally, etc.)

And then he should call on all members of Congress do to the same.

It pains me even to suggest this because I am happy paying salaries to our elected leaders and because demanding symbolic sacrifices from leaders is mostly a rhetorical stunt that rarely ever affects policy or, in this case, the fiscal bottom line.

But given that the pay freeze will also barely affect the bottom line — saving $60 billion over 10 years, or approximately 0.17% of the total federal budget over this time period (assuming that we spend roughly $3.5 trillion every year for the next 10 years) — it seems better from a messaging perspective to advocate for personal sacrifice by elected leaders instead of making life harder for some GS-8 who lives in Loudon County. Obviously, Obama and many members of Congress are wealthy enough that they don’t really need the money.