Our opinion: Obama veto keeps feathers in nests of ex-presidents

Source: Dubuque Telegraph Herald

By Telegraph Herald Editorial Board

In 7½ years in office, President Obama has vetoed congressional bills only 10 times. That’s on a par with his predecessor, George W. Bush, but about a third of the vetoes exercised by the presidents before them, Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush.

The low number of vetoes is not necessarily a commentary on Obama’s agreeable nature but more a reflection on the partisan divide on Capitol Hill — between the House and the Senate and, since 2015, between the Republican Congress and Democratic president. Republican and Democratic lawmakers simply haven’t agreed enough to give Obama many chances to use his veto pen.

Whatever the reasons, Obama has so few of them, a veto is noteworthy — especially when the veto might impact Obama personally when he becomes Barack Obama, Private Citizen, starting in January.

Obama last week vetoed a bill that would have limited taxpayer-supported expense accounts for former presidents.

The bill, championed by Iowa’s junior senator, Republican Joni Ernst, would have limited the annual allowance for travel, staff and office costs to $200,000. Some former presidents have made millions just by giving speeches, writing books or engaging in other high-profile endeavors, and the bill would have trimmed the allocation, dollar-for-dollar, for outside income above $400,000. The presidential pension — another $200,000 a year — and Secret Service protection would not have been impacted.

When we editorialized about Ernst’s bill in March, we said it was a good idea. We still think so.

Obama also thinks it is a good idea — just not good enough.

He said he didn’t think it would be fair to immediately end salaries and benefits to former presidents’ staffers. He also contends that Secret Service protection for former presidents could be compromised. Obama said he would sign a bill if those issues could be worked out.

But are they really issues? Millionaire ex-presidents could shoulder aides’ salaries and benefits pretty seamlessly, and adequate protection should not be a question.

Regardless of party, presidents work hard and face incredible stress and danger. In retirement, their service should be acknowledged and appreciated. After leading our country for four or eight years, we don’t expect them to go from president to pauper.

However, taxpayers likewise shouldn’t be expected to cover so much of their expenses when they have parlayed the presidency into multi-million-dollar incomes. Clinton and the younger Bush command six-figure fees for a single speech, yet they still collect more than $400,000 a year for office expenses.

Despite Obama’s signals toward compromise, Ernst is not placated. “I am so disappointed that at a time when past presidents receive well-compensated book deals and speaking fees, hardworking Americans are also expected to foot the bill for their personal staff, office expenses, and much more,” she said. “This is truly outrageous, particularly at a time when every citizen’s individual share of the national debt is nearly $60,000 ... I hope President Obama will reconsider and work with us to protect taxpayers’ hard-earned dollars.”

Time might be running out on this one, as Congress will be out of session more than it is in before the lame-duck period begins. And for Obama to remove feathers from his own future nest might be a lot to expect.

As we stated before, there’s no reason for taxpayers to cover office expenses for millionaires, even if they are former presidents. Obama missed the call on this one.

Editorials reflect the consensus of the Telegraph Herald Editorial Board