Ever wonder what our living ex-presidents are worth? We don’t mean what’s their net worth; it’s fair to say they’re doing better than getting by.
We’re wondering what they cost taxpayers and whether being president for four or eight years really entitles someone to all that he — and someday she — gets.
Not so long ago the Congressional Research Service revealed that we spent $37 million in 2012 in support of our four former presidents — Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush — and one president’s widow, Nancy Reagan. Some of the bigger items were annual pensions of $200,000 and $96,000 for staff. Much of their travel, staff benefits, office space and communications expenses also were wrapped into that $37 million, but Secret Service details come out of another budget.
That $37 million would make a tidy lottery prize, but it’s not all that big a chunk out of annual budgets so big they can have trillion-dollar deficits. But in times of deficits, every dollar counts.
We’re clearly not at the point that we’re going to means-test the retirement perks of our presidents or even reduce their respective stipends if their “outside” income reaches a certain level.
We’re not even sure what that level ought to be. Some of our ex-presidents can command upwards of $100,000 — plus expenses — to give the same speech to crowds at 10 or 20 universities from coast to coast. And the modern ex-president who hasn’t written at least one book is the exception.
Maybe they’re counting on Uncle Sam’s beneficence because the money they get from their speeches goes directly into their presidential libraries. President Clinton’s library in Little Rock, Ark., cost about $180 million. The elder President Bush’s library in College Station, Texas, cost about $105 million in today’s dollars — a pittance compared to the roughly $500 million raised for the younger President Bush’s library in Dallas. Once presidents get the libraries built, the National Archives runs them.
To be fair, our former presidents keep busy — and not just golfing or jumping out of airplanes. They’re involved with various philanthropic foundations and good works such as President Clinton’s continued involvement helping Haiti recover from its earthquake.
President Obama will join this alumni association in a few years at the age of 55. He certainly gives a good speech and already has a couple of books to his credit. Maybe he’ll enjoy golfing more when fewer of his political foes are paying attention. And maybe like his recent predecessors, he’ll represent the United States in ways that make his fellow citizens proud. Heck, maybe he’ll even give 5 percent of his pension back to the Treasury.