Reporting from Washington -- With ex-presidents earning hundreds of thousands of dollars in speaking fees and book deals, a bipartisan effort is underway in Congress to scale back taxpayer support for well-to-do former occupants of the Oval Office.
The Presidential Allowance Modernization Act seeks to amend a half-century-old law that sought to "maintain the dignity” of the office of the president.
The proposal would provide a taxpayer supported pension of $200,000, about the same amount that they now receive. But payments to ex-presidents for outside expenses such as office staff and travel would be cut back if their outside income exceeded $400,000 a year.
"Nobody wants our former presidents living the remainder of their lives destitute," Rep. Jason Chaffetz
(R-Utah), one of the bill’s sponsors, said in a statement. "But the fact is none of our former presidents are poor. Reports actually indicate that between book tours and speaking fees these men are making millions of dollars a year. There's little reason why American taxpayers should be subsidizing these former presidents when they're doing fine on their own.’’
Rep. Jason Altmire
(D-Pa.), another bill sponsor, added: "If the American people are being asked to make sacrifices as we get our economy moving again, it makes sense for elected officials, who already are financially stable, to do the same."
in 1958 signed into law a bill granting ex-presidents a $25,000 pension annually, plus $50,000 for a staff and office to handle correspondence. The measure was passed after President Harry S Truman, after leaving office, struggled to hire a staff to handle his mail and requests for speeches, according to a Congressional Research Service report.
Former presidents receive varying amounts for expenses such as an office, staff and travel expenses. The amounts paid in fiscal 2011, including the pension, varied from $517,000 for Carter to $1.3 million for George W. Bush. Secret Service protection costs are not included.
Under the legislation, the $200,000 annual allowance would be reduced dollar for dollar if a former president makes more than $400,000 in outside income. If a former president makes $600,000 or more in outside income, the ex-president would receive the $200,000 pension but no public allowance.
The legislation would give a former president’s surviving spouse a $100,000 annual allowance, up from the current $20,000.
Congress has debated scaling back presidential allowances before but the new effort could gain momentum because of pressure to reduce the federal budget deficit.
"The taxpayer costs of keeping former presidents comfortable in their retirement may not amount to a huge budget item, but they're something that the average person can more easily relate to than other things the government buys, such as aircraft carriers or new courthouses,’’ said Pete Sepp, executive vice president of the National Taxpayers Union, which supports the bill.