Bill Would Slash Taxpayer Subsidies for Rich Former Presidents

(Emily Larsen, Liberty Headlines) A new bill aims to reduce the million-dollar benefits former presidents receive from taxpayers, recognizing modern economic realities which afford former presidents plenty of opportunities to earn money.

Bush Clinton photo

Photo by Beverly & Pack (CC)

The Presidential Allowance Modernization Act of 2017 would slightly reduce pensions for former presidents to $200,000, but then reduce that pension dollar-for-dollar if the former president makes over $400,000 per year. It would also limit office expenses, including staff, to $500,000 per year, and lower the allowance to $350,000 in six years and $250,000 in 10 years.

Rep. Jody Hice (R-Ga.) introduced the bill, H.R. 3739, in the House. Senator Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) introduced companion legislation in the Senate.

“The lifestyle of the modern post-presidency has dramatically changed in recent years, affording former presidents many lucrative opportunities, including high-dollar speaking engagements, book deals, and board memberships, just to name a few,” said Hice in a press release. “With Americans looking down the barrel of a $20 trillion debt, we must find ways to reduce wasteful spending, and our former presidents will lead by example in cutting costs under this bill.”

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Since 1958, former presidents have received a pension and funding for staff salaries, office space, travel expenses, communications, and other expenses. In Fiscal Year 2017, the living former presidents each received a pension of $205,700, plus other benefits totaling a combined $2.84 million. For Fiscal Year 2018, former presidents Obama, George W. Bush, and Clinton each requested over a million dollars in total benefits, and George H.W. Bush requested just shy of a million at $942,000.

“What we see is a situation where our former presidents have book deals, they have speaking engagements, and they are paid quite liberally in those areas, and the American taxpayer shouldn’t be subsidizing for those personal office spaces, and it’s time we do something about that,” said Ernst on “Fox and Friends.”

Before the Former Presidents Act, some previous officeholders were financially strapped. Harry Truman moved back to his old house in Independence, Missouri, and had no federal financial support other than his Army pension of $112.56 a month. He refused to engage in any paying activity that would commercialize the presidency, including making endorsements, consulting, or accepting chairmanships. Congress implemented presidential pensions due in part to Truman’s plight.

Speaking engagements, consulting, and book deals are commonplace for former presidents today. Although Hillary Clinton famously claimed that she and Bill Clinton were “dead broke” and in debt after leaving the White House, they became multimillionaires within months after Bill started giving paid speeches. Barack Obama and George W. Bush each have an estimated net worth is $40 million, according to CelebrityNetWorth.com. Obama charged $400,000 for a speech to a Wall Street firm, and his family bought a $8.1 million house in Washington, DC, in May.

A version of the Presidential Allowance Modernization passed both the House and the Senate last year with bipartisan support, but was vetoed by President Obama. The former version would have immediately terminated salaries and benefits of those working in the offices of former presidents, and other “onerous and unreasonable burdens.”

Although the bill includes reductions for staff, it would not reduce funding for security detail for the former presidents or their family members.

The House version of the bill will be heard by the House Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee today.