A couple of days ago, there was news indicating that President Obama was going to return 5% of his salary, which amounts to about $17,000, as a sign of solidarity with those federal workers who’ve been furloughed. In case you’re not familiar with this situation, I’ll explain a little first.
In 2011, there was the debt-ceiling debacle. One of the things that came of that was the sequester. The sequester was supposed to be such drastic cuts to the federal budget meant as an incentive to make some sort of deal before the deadline. It wasn’t ever meant to happen, (at least that’s what politicians said publicly), and the date set for the deadline to make a deal (and begin the implementation of the sequester if there weren’t a deal) was January 2, 2013. As part of the New Year’s Eve tax deal, Congress pushed the start of the sequester to March 1, 2013, which is when it began.
As the sequester has a great deal of spending cuts, this has greatly affected some of the workers in the federal government. For instance, some workers have had to take furloughs — temporary unpaid leave. Companies (or the government) don’t usually use this unless there’s a need because of the budget situation. As an aside: on Chris Hayes’ new show (All In with Chris Hayes), he went into detail with one particular worker who has had to take furloughs and had a brief panel discussion about it. That brings us back to President Obama.
A couple of days ago, President Obama stated that he was going to return a portion of his salary to show solidarity with those workers who are having to take these temporary unpaid leaves. The President may have started it, but he’s certainly not finishing it. Secretary of State John Kerry, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, Secretary of the Treasury Jack Lew, and Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano are all showing similar signs of solidarity. So is freshman Congresswoman Tammy Duckworth. But this is not limited to Democrats. Senator Lindsey Graham and Senator Mike Lee have both indicated that they will return some of their salary. I think all of this is well and good, but the one thing that irked me was how Lindsey Graham wrote about his decision on Twitter. (I should note, I don’t know if any of the other politicians have said made similar claims, as I just saw someone retweet Lindsey Graham’s commentary.)
After I saw this tweet, I went on a bit of a rant on Twitter that I’ll include below:
Let’s first start with the issue of empathy. People often confuse empathy and sympathy. I’ve written about empathy before:
Empathy is at the heart of the beginning of the solution to many of the world’s problems. When we empathize, we are able to recognize the emotions that another is feeling. At the root of compassion is empathy. [Note: sympathy is quite different from empathy. Sympathy is simply a concern for another's well-being, where empathy usually refers to one sharing the same emotional state.]
I should note that the “note” in that quote actually comes from the post. So, now that we know what empathy means, let’s return to Senator Graham’s comment. He said he was cutting 20% of his pay to empathize with those furloughed. In order for Senator Graham’s actions to demonstrate empathy, it’d actually have to affect his life in the way that those furloughed are affected. For an example of this, scroll up in this post and watch the video I linked to with Chris Hayes talking to someone who is being furloughed. Senator Graham’s current salary for FY2013 is $174,000. If we take 20% away, that leaves him with about $140,000. Something else that’s important to this conversation is Graham’s net worth, which is now pegged at $1.5 million. I understand that politicians have to keep up two offices (one in DC and one in their district/state), but does anyone think that Senator Graham’s going to have as hard a go as thing with a $140K salary as the military serviceman who had to get a second job delivering pizzas?
This is not empathy.
As an addendum to this conversation, I wanted to include data about the current Congress’s net worth, but there doesn’t seem to be a list out there. However, I was able to find a list for all members of Congress in 2010. Some things of note: of 100 Senators, only 7 had a net worth of less than $100,000 and 24 had a net worth of more than $10,000,000. Of the 435 member of Congress, 81 had a net worth of less than $100,000 and 42 had a net worth of more than $10,000,000.