Guest Editorial: Ex-presidents don’t need perks

Telegraph Herald (Dubuque, Iowa)
March 11

Whatever happens in the November election, one thing is certain: Come January, Americans will be footing bills for another former president — and a relatively young and healthy one at that.

Stock image

When President Obama becomes former President Obama, he will join the ranks of an elite handful who still enjoy some pretty nice perks on the taxpayer dime. In 2015, we picked up the tab for pension and benefits for four former presidents. George W. Bush got more than $1 million. His father, George H.W. Bush, got about $800,000. Bill Clinton received $900,000 while Jimmy Carter, not surprisingly, was a bargain at $430,000.

Without question, being president is no easy job. It’s grueling. Comparing photos of our presidents just before they take office with those four or eight years later makes it clear that there is more going on than just the passage of time. The job is a grind, and our former presidents deserve some sort of retirement plan. But $1 million a year seems to be a pretty pricey thank-you. So does $900,000. Or $800,000. Especially when the former president already possesses a substantial nest egg or enjoys post-White House earning power.

Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, thinks the right number is about $200,000, and she’s written legislation to make that proposal law.

She is on the right track.

Clinton pulls down at least $200,000 every time he gives a speech. (We doubt that his wife, Hillary, has to pay him for his campaign speeches — or at least not that much.) George W. Bush doesn’t talk as often or collect as much money as Clinton, but he still receives upwards of $150,000 a speech. He has delivered more than 200 speeches the past seven-plus years, so that represents about $30 million. Clinton’s coffers are even more full.

These guys have also made fortunes on book deals — millions.

And that’s OK. As Gerald Ford once argued, a private citizen should be able to leverage his past experience however he pleases.

But when ex-presidents are making millions, do Americans really need to pay $440,000 a year for their office space, as they did for George W. Bush and Clinton in Fiscal 2014?

After all, as a nation, we’re not flush. The national debt is around $19 trillion and rising. Now, considered as part of a multi-trillion-dollar annual budget, the outlay for former presidents is seat-cushion change. But it’s the principle of the thing. Plus, if not here, where should we start to tighten the fiscal belt?

The stipend limitation won’t impact ex-presidents’ Secret Service detail — they get that for life, as they should. But Ernst’s bill would cut out the unlimited spending on things like communications, office space, staff and travel expenses. The Presidential Allowance Modernization Act would set the allowance at $200,000 a year — an amount that would be further reduced if a former president makes more than $400,000 in income in a given year.

That seems fair.

We have no former presidents who are struggling to pay bills. And one can only imagine President Obama’s speaking fees will join his predecessors in the stratosphere. But there’s no reason taxpayers need to pay office expenses for millionaires, even if they are former presidents.