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EDITORIAL: The 5 percent solution

‘Sequestering’ the president’s pay is cute but meaningless

It's not as melodramatic or drastic as going on a hunger strike or chaining himself to the White House fence, but President Obama's "sequestering" 5 percent of his $400,000 salary — or $20,000 — during the period of fiscal restraint is a nice gesture. Several other government officials, including Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, Housing Secretary Shaun Donovan and Sen. Mark Begich of Alaska (a Democrat) are making similar token sacrifices.

It's fair to speculate (politics, like life, is rarely fair) that Mr. Begich, up for re-election in 2014, has his eye on the polls and a prospective Republican challenge from Tea Party favorite Joe Miller. Mr. Obama, of course, is done with running for office, and Mr. Hagel might as well be. So theirs may be sincere gestures, but they're empty ones. Many in the administration — and certainly Mr. Obama and Vice President Joe Biden — could do a lot more to restrain spending. It's a matter of priorities.

The White House is still closed to public tours, disappointing thousands of spring tourists who traveled hundreds or thousands of miles and had hoped to see the "people's house" up close. By foregoing a golfing vacation or two, Mr. Obama could have shifted more than enough money to cover the cost of uniformed and plainclothes Secret Service agents needed to support the tours. If Mr. Biden were to resume his Amtrak-riding ways between Washington and his home in Delaware, or even go home in a motorcade or two, the savings over his million-dollar weekend jet getaways would come to a lot more than the paltry sum needed to pay for the tours.

There will be no sign of austerity at the White House next Tuesday, when the president and Mrs. Obama welcome artists Alabama Shakes, William Bell, Steve Cropper, Al Green, Ben Harper, Queen Latifah, Cyndi Lauper, Joshua Ledet, Sam Moore, Charlie Musselwhite, Mavis Staples and Justin Timberlake for a concert to be televised a week later by PBS. Administration officials helpfully note that this will be the 10th "In Performance at the White House" hosted by the Obamas.

Phone banks might cast a damper on the event, with Cyndi Lauper and Justin Timberlake waiting to croon for pledges, but this would be a great venue for the ubiquitous beg-a-thons of PBS. It's a shame to waste an opportunity for bad taste, with plain taxpayers unable to get past the front gate. It's sad. Mr. Obama rebuffed congressional offers to enable him to make sequestration "cuts" (more accurately, reductions in spending increases) more sensibly. Perhaps the novelty wears off after five years in the executive mansion, but for first-time visitors, perhaps a future resident among them, visiting the White House is a life's highlight.

Mr. Obama's 5 percent solution is about appearing to care, which is different from actually caring. Cutting the salaries of a handful of politicians by 5 percent or less won't do anything when the entire federal government should take a 28 percent cut to restore balance. Until that happens, Mr. Obama will continue to party with celebrities in the people's house. The rest of us are on the way to the poor house.

The Washington Times

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