In-Depth: Rep. Jody Hice (R-GA) reintroduced this bill from the 115th Congress to limit former presidents’ pensions and reduce allowances provided to them for post-presidential expenditures:
“In recent years, former presidents have had no shortage of lucrative opportunities upon leaving office. Despite this, taxpayers are still footing the bill for the official expenditures of former Commanders-in-Chief. The Presidential Modernization Act modifies the pensions provided to future former presidents and their spouses by taking into account the modern-day financial realities realized after leaving office while keeping in place funding for security and protections needed in today’s world.”
After this bill passed the House Oversight and Reform Committee, Rep. Hice added:
“Times have changed, and no former U.S. president today is dependent solely on taxpayer subsidies to support their quality of life. The modern post-presidency allows presidents to earn big bucks through book tours and speaking engagements, and this bill serves as a simple and fair method to reform presidential pensions. With strong bipartisan and public support, I’m glad the Presidential Allowance Modernization Act cleared the committee by unanimous consent, and I look forward to its consideration on the House Floor.”
Original cosponsor Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), Chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, adds that lucrative post-presidential opportunities obviate the need for taxpayer-funded office allowances for former presidents:
“This legislation would end government payments to former presidents who often earn substantial income from post-presidential work. History shows that former presidents do very well financially after they leave office, making it very unlikely that they need taxpayer funded office allowances to make ends meet.”
This legislation passed the House Oversight and Reform Committee by a unanimous vote with the support of one House cosponsor, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD). Its Senate companion, sponsored by Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA), passed the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs by voice vote with the support of five bipartisan Senate cosponsors, including three Republicans and two Democrats.
In the 115th Congress, this legislation passed the House by voice vote with the support of three Republican House cosponsors. Its Senate companion, sponsored by Sen. Ernst, passed the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs by voice vote with the support of three bipartisan Senate cosponsors, including two Republicans and one Democrat.
In 2016, then-president Barack Obama vetoed a previous version of this bill on the grounds that the sudden loss of funded would create “onerous” demands on presidential staff and General Services Administration (GSA) staff.
Of Note: The Former Presidents Act, which this bill amends, was passed in 1958 because prior to that the federal government offered no pension or retirement benefits to former U.S. presidents. Dwight D. Eisenhower was the first president to leave office and receive a pension, while both Herbert Hoover and Harry Truman began receiving benefits upon the bill’s enactment.
In 2015, around $2.4 million was set aside for former president allowances — ~$600,000 per president. These taxpayer funded allowances were used to cover costs for offices, staff, supplies, and other services intended to help former presidents perform duties related to their unofficial public status.
In a September 4, 2019 tweet about this bill, Rep. Hice cited figures from Turning Point USA’s Charlie Kirk to make a point about this bill’s necessity. In a September 3, 2019 tweet, Kirk said that the Obamas, who are worth over $135 million, will cost taxpayers $1.176 million in 2019. He argued that former president Obama could “give two speeches on Wall Street at his rate of $1.2M each and take the cost off the taxpayer for the whole year,” but chooses instead to have taxpayers “subsidize his lifestyle.”
Summary by Eric Revell and Lorelei Yang
(Photo Credit: "Photograph of the Four Presidents (Reagan, Carter, Ford, Nixon) toasting in the Blue Room prior to leaving for Egypt... - NARA - 198522" by Unknown or not provided - U.S. National Archives and Records Administration. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons)