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Sequester sympathizers: Obama, Kerry, Hagel give up part of salaries

UPDATED 2:30 pm
This combination of three images shows: (L) U.S. President Barack Obama as he speaks during a joint news conference held with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on March 20, 2013 in Jerusalem, Israel. (Photo by Heidi Levine-Pool/Getty Images) (C...
This combination of three images shows: (L) U.S. President Barack Obama as he speaks during a joint news conference held with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin...

UPDATED 2:30 pm

President Obama will voluntarily give back 5% of his salary this year to help draw attention to the sacrifice of federal employees who will see their pay go down from being furloughed in the coming weeks thanks to automatic spending cuts, a White House aide told NBC News.

The gesture comes one day after Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said he plans to return a portion of his salary to stand in solidarity with the 750,000 civilian defense department workers who will be furloughed.

Because the president's salary cannot be changed midterm, he will write a check back to the Treasury Dept. equal to 5% of his pay starting at the date the sequester took effect, NBC News White House Correspondent Chuck Todd reported.

Secretary of State John Kerry announced Thursday afternoon he'll be following Obama's lead and Hagel by donating 5% of his salary to a charity that benefits State Department employees, according to State Department Spokesperson Victoria Nuland.

The president has insisted for weeks now that the $85 billion sequester is having and will continue to have a serious impact across the country, even though many Americans remain unconvinced. A new McClatchy-Marist poll finds about 36% of registered voters believe the sequester has had a negative impact on the economy, while 40% believe it's had no impact. More people expected an adverse impact when McClatchy-Marist asked a similar question last month. At the time, only 27% thought the budget cuts would have no impact, and nearly half (47%) said it would have a negative impact.

Despite public perception, an increasing number of reports show that these budget cuts have cut into government services.

Cancer clinics across the country have been forced to turn away patients after Medicare cuts took effect on Monday, according to a recent report by The Washington Post. North Shore Hematology Oncology Associates in New York decided that they could no longer afford to see one-third of their 16,000 Medicare patients.

“A lot of us are in disbelief that this is happening,” said Jeff Vacirca, chief executive of those clinics told the Post. “It’s a choice between seeing these patients and staying in business.”

More cuts are still set to take effect elsewhere. The first round of EPA furloughs will begin April 21.

Local communities are being impacted across the country. Huffington Post recently chronicled some of these cuts, from a shuttered food pantry in Utah to housing aid cuts in Alabama, Louisiana, and California, and reports of job losses in more than a dozen different towns and cities.

If American sentiment changes as budget cuts settle in around the country, President Obama could gain a bargaining chip with Republicans. The same poll showed that Obama has an edge on fiscal issues: By about a 9-point margin, Americans trust Obama over Congressional Republicans to make the right decisions about the federal budget. Perhaps even more importantly, Republicans get more blame than the president for the budget stalemate by a 14-point margin.