Former presidents of the United States -- at least the ones who are still living -- are all members of the proverbial 1 percent. Still, despite their own personal wealth, they are still compensated by the federal government long after their terms end, a policy that some members of the U.S. House of Representatives say needs to change.
Three members of the U.S. House of Representatives proposed legislation on Tuesday that would cut federal compensation to former U.S. presidents, arguing that those individuals are often fabulously wealthy and sometimes earn formidable incomes from speaking fees.
Nobody wants our former presidents living the remainder of their lives destitute, Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, the lead sponsor of the bill said Tuesday, according to The Hill. But the fact is none of our former presidents are poor.
The bipartisan effort is also being sponsored by Reps. Jason Altmire, D-Penn., and Trey Gowdy, R-S.C. The legislation, called the Presidential Allowance Modernization Act, would amend the Former President's Act of 1958, which contains a provision stating that each former president is entitled to an annual annuity of $200,000 as well as a monetary allowance of $200,000.
Although the new law would keep that provision on the record, it would also cut those payments dollar for dollar for all income earned above $400,000 for the allowance Therefore, former presidents who earn millions from speaking engagements would not receive compensation from the government on that front, although the pension would remain.
Under the law, the widow of each former President is also entitled to $20,000 annual income, although the allowance can be suspended if she remarries before age 60. The new bill would actually increase that compensation to $100,000.
The sponsors of legislation estimate the bill could save as much as $3 million in fiscal 2013.
There are currently four living former U.S. presidents: Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton.
Clinton has earned more than $70 million on the lecture circuit since leaving office in 2001, according to multiple media reports. In 2010 alone, Clinton earned approximately $10.7 million for 52 paid speaking engagements.
Similarly, as of May 2011, George W. Bush had reportedly earned at least $15 million in speaking fees since the end of his second term in 2009. The Center for Public Integrity reports Bush's standard speaking fee ranged between $100,000 and $150,000.
Before 1958, the U.S. government did not provide a pension or any other retirement benefits to former presidents, according to the Congressional Research Service. The industrialist Andrew Carnegie reportedly offered to provide $25,000 annual pensions to former presidents in 1912, but the plan was rejected by members of Congress who ruled it was inappropriate for a private executive to provide such a service.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article stated that the bill's dollar-for-dollar reduction would affect both the presidential pension and allowance. It in fact would only apply to the allowance.