Politics

Citing sequester, Democratic senator furloughs staff, returns part of salary

Photo of Alexis Levinson
Alexis Levinson
Political Reporter

Democratic Alaska Sen. Mark Begich announced Wednesday that he has begun furloughing staff to reduce his office budget in the wake of the sequester.

According to Begich press secretary Heather Handyside, 26 of Begich’s 41 staffers in both Alaska and Washington, D.C. are being furloughed.

“They’re taking a temporary pay cut for the remainder of the budget year, and they will reduce their hours accordingly,” Handyside said, telling The Daily Caller that she herself is being furloughed.

Begich will also return part of his salary to the Treasury.

“We need to be making responsible cuts wherever we can, and there is no reason that members of Congress shouldn’t feel the pinch like everyone else,” Begich said in a statement. “This won’t solve our spending problem on its own, but I hope it is a reminder to Alaskans that I am willing to make the tough cuts, wherever they may be, to get our spending under control.”

Handyside said that the decision to furlough staff was made because “it really was the only solution” to cut the budget further.  (RELATED: Barack and Michelle Obama to host celeb-filled concert despite cutting White House tours for budget reasons)

Begich “prides himself on running a lean office,” she said, noting that they already do a lot to trim their budget.

The most problematic cuts, she said, have been to the travel budget. Alaska is a large state, and traveling around to see constituents in different parts of the state is a much more expensive proposition, Handyside pointed out, than it would be for a senator from a smaller state like Delaware.

Begich has returned almost $1 million to the Treasury since he joined the Senate in 2009. Across the aisle, Republican Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul has returned $1.1 million in unused money from his budget to the Treasury.

Begich’s impending re-election race next year may be prompting his focus on spending cuts. Alaska is a red-leaning state, and Begich is considered to be one of the most vulnerable incumbents in 2014.

Begich has worked hard to emphasize his independence from his party. Last month, he was one of just four Democrats who voted against the Democratic budget proposed by Senate budget committee chair Patty Murray. Like Begich, the three other naysayers face re-election in red-leaning states next fall.

Follow Alexis on Twitter