By Jerry Cornfield Herald Writer
Congresswoman Suzan DelBene is giving herself a pay cut.
She figured it’s the least and most fair step she could take as across-the-board spending cuts begin taking root in federal agencies.
DelBene intends to return 8.2 percent of her earnings to the U.S Treasury, the same percentage of reduction that federal departments and congressional offices must make under the dictates of the process known as sequestration.
“The across-the-board cuts from sequestration are starting to impact people throughout the country. It’s only fair that elected leaders are affected as well,” said DelBene, whose 1st Congressional District includes a large swath of east Snohomish County.
She might be the only member of Washington’s congressional delegation to take this action. In emails and interviews, six said they would not, three didn’t respond to requests for comment and two were not reachable.
Lawmaker salaries are set in law and excluded from the mandated cuts occurring because Congress did not reach agreement on a federal budget last year.
For DelBene, who earns $174,000 a year, an 8.2 percent cut would equal $14,268. She intended to send back $2,378 to cover the months of March and April; the sequester took effect in March.
On Tuesday, she also signed onto a bill aimed at making congressional pay subject to the sequester starting in 2015 — if it is still on the books. Such a law cannot go into effect immediately because the Constitution bars members of Congress from manipulating their own salaries in the middle of a term.
DelBene, a former Microsoft executive, is a millionaire who can afford to forgo thousands of dollars in salary.
That’s not motivating her decision, her spokesman said.
“Fundamentally this is and will be about fairness,” said communications director Viet Shelton. “These across-the-board cuts will affect millions of people across America. It was the appropriate thing to do for elected leaders to take the same cut.”
DelBene is among a growing number of federal officials giving up income.
President Barack Obama announced April 3 he’d return 5 percent of his $400,000 annual salary. Several members of his cabinet as well as the House and Senate declared they would send back a chunk of their monthly paychecks in what The New York Times described as an embrace of the “politics of self-sacrifice.”
But DelBene is alone among Washington’s federal delegation in doing so.
Democratic Reps. Jim McDermott and Rick Larsen, the two other representatives whose districts include portions of Snohomish County, and Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell are not planning to give back any pay.
Reps. Derek Kilmer and Denny Heck, both first-term Democrats like DelBene, are not either, though both intend to contribute a portion of their salary to charity, according to their offices.
Kilmer will give to a scholarship fund for college-bound students in his district, a practice he undertook as a state senator.
Heck and his wife will “examine their specific giving priorities in light of the hardships that continuing high unemployment and the effects of sequestration are having,” said the congressman’s spokesman, Phil Gardner.
Democratic Rep. Adam Smith and Republican Rep. Doc Hastings, who was on a flight to the nation’s Capitol, were not reachable for comment on deadline. Republican Reps. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, Dave Reichert and Jaime Herrera Beutler did not respond to requests for comment.
“I strongly oppose sequestration cuts, and have from the beginning,” said McDermott, who voted against last year’s deal, which required spending reductions if Congress failed to reach a budget agreement.
“Well-meaning as it is, returning one’s congressional salary won’t stop cuts to government employees’ salaries or save any of the 700,000 jobs that are currently threatened by these unwise and unnecessary cuts,” said McDermott, whose 7th District includes south Snohomish County.
Jared Leopold, communications director for Cantwell, said she and Murray are working with other senators “to replace the sequester and end furloughs of federal workers, while making more strategic budget cuts that get our fiscal house in order.”
Larsen has voted against congressional pay hikes each of the past four years, according to his communications director, Bryan Thomas. Larsen serves in the 2nd District, which includes Island County, Everett and part of Marysville.
“Congressman Larsen thinks the sequester is bad policy that needs to be replaced with a balanced approach that includes targeted spending cuts, slowing the growth of future spending and raising new revenues,” Thomas said.
Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; firstname.lastname@example.org.