In the News
Source: Omaha World Herald
By Joseph Morton
WASHINGTON — Every year, taxpayers shell out millions of dollars in allowances to former U.S. presidents.
It’s time to tighten those post-presidential belts, says Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa. Being the former leader of the free world is a pretty lucrative gig these days, after all.
She introduced legislation Thursday that would limit the allowances to $200,000 a year per president.
“Taxpayers should not be on the hook for subsidizing former presidents’ lives to the tune of millions of dollars,” Ernst said.
The perks, which come on top of a pension set by the bill at $200,000, would be cut even more if the former president is pulling down a big income: Every dollar earned over $400,000 would reduce the benefits by a dollar, under her legislation.
Similar legislation is moving through the House. Ernst said nothing in the bill would affect the security and protection provided to former presidents.
Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, chairman of the House Oversight panel, has introduced similar bills in the past two sessions of Congress.
Former presidents are entitled to federal money for pension benefits, travel, office space, communications and other expenses, under a system established in 1958.
According to a Congressional Research Service report, the intent was to “maintain the dignity” of the presidency by providing those who had served in the office — and their spouses — with a pension and the means to respond to mail and speaking requests, as well as other informal public duties.
Up until that point, at least a few presidents — Ulysses S. Grant and Harry S. Truman among them — had struggled financially after leaving office.
Truman, in particular, said it cost him $30,000 a year to answer his mail and respond to speaking requests after leaving office in 1953.
So Congress approved the allowance system, in part to keep former presidents from having to engage in unsavory business dealings that might sully the office.
The allowances cost taxpayers about $3.5 million in fiscal year 2014. The largest chunk of that — $1.2 million — went to office space. Pension benefits amounted to $804,000.
George W. Bush received benefits worth $1.3 million, while $944,000 went to Bill Clinton. George H.W. Bush received $830,000 in benefits and Jimmy Carter $466,000.
Those pushing to revamp the system say that things have changed since 1958 and that the modern reality is much different for former residents of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
Ex-presidents today can earn big bucks by giving speeches and selling books, and today’s living former presidents are millionaires.
The bill comes just days after Hillary Rodham Clinton reported that she and her husband had earned more than $30 million combined in speaking fees and book royalties since January 2014.
George W. Bush has earned at least $15 million for more than 140 paid speeches since he left office in 2009.
“Although this is a narrow item, this is an issue of restoring taxpayer trust by looking at reforms in the allowances and perks given to these former presidents who generate significant incomes after leaving office,” Ernst said.
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