Congressman proposes reduced funds for high-earning ex-presidents' expenses

Here and Now

President Obama, second from left, stands with the four living former U.S. Presidents, George H.W. Bush, from left, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter, in 2009. Ex-presidents get generous expense accounts from taxpayers. (Photo by White House P

U.S. taxpayers spent $3.7 million on the expenses of our four surviving former presidents this fiscal year. And that doesn't include the costs of their Secret Service protection. But it does include an $85,000 phone bill for George W. Bush, $440,000 dollars in rent for Bill Clinton, and $15,000 dollars in postage for Jimmy Carter.

But up until 1958, ex-presidents were completely on their own. Historian David McCullough writes that when Harry Truman left office in 1953, “He had no income or support of any kind from the federal government other than his army pension of $112 a month.”

In this day and age, former presidents receive a retirement pension equal to the pay of serving cabinet members, or about $200,000 a year presently, as well as certain expenses. But in addition to those benefits, being a former president today is down right lucrative. ABC News reported that Clinton brought in more than $10 million last year in speaking fees, while George W. Bush made $15 million from speeches. Meanwhile, for the same year, taxpayers funded $1.1 million in expenses for Clinton, and $1.3 million for George W. Bush.

Republican Congressman Jason Chaffetz of Utah has sponsored a bill that would cut off those taxpayer dollars to any ex-president who makes more than $400,000 a year. One Democrat and six Republicans have signed on to co-sponsor the legislation.

"It just seems a bit much. For a president to be earning millions and millions of dollars, it just seemed a little bit excessive," Chaffetz said. "No one wants to see our former presidents destitute, but, if you're going to go out in the private sector, and we applaud this, doesn't mean the taxpayers should be paying for your parking fees and reimbursing you for your mobile phone."

Chaffetz said under his bill, ex-presidents would still be entitled to their government pension and as much as $200,000 for miscellaneous expenses, to be used practically however they want, until they make over $600,000 in additional income. But given how much ex-presidents can make, he doesn't think it's fair to have the U.S. taxpayer funding $86,000 in unitemized equipment, as George W. Bush spent in 2011.

Chaffetz also said it's possible that the federal funding may actually be going toward helping these ex-presidents manage their speaking engagements, or even campaign on behalf of current politicians.

"It's not as if they have a separate office that deals with just their business opportunities or their speaking engagements, and then have everything else that's maybe philanthropic or has to do with government work or advising a current president," Chaffetz pointed out.