Chris' Original Blogbeque

A fresh, vinegar-based examination of life

Retirement benefits for ex-presidents

Posted by Chris on May 1, 2008

I always read the Tuesday Morning Quarterback article at espn.com, which is about much more than sports, by Gregg Easterbrook.
One of his items of interest is politics and one of his favorite rants about the retirement benefits and salaries federal politicians receive. This particular passage is very informative and persuasive from his
2008 Draft Review
.

Stop subsidizing rich former presidents: Last year, TMQ complained that although former chief executives George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton are wealthy, both continue to take large amounts of presidential retirement benefits and other sweetheart payments — money forcibly removed from the pockets of taxpayers who are struggling to get by. Reader Zach Stanley of Boston points out this Politico story indicating the situation is worse than my 2007 item suggested. Clinton, whose recently released tax forms show he has made more than $10 million per year since leaving office, nevertheless has already claimed $8 million in retirement benefits (and he’s not retired), plus $3.2 million for office overhead, plus $420,000 for his phone bill. The later figure is difficult to take seriously; even if you yakked 24/7 on a satellite line to Tajikistan, it’s hard to believe you could ring up $420,000 in telephone charges. Is some of this money really going to staffers for Clinton’s speechmaking business? In public the very wealthy Clinton wags his finger about how the rich are shafting the average guy. He himself is shafting the average guy by claiming lavish tax subsidies.

All this is doubly vexing because the payments are made under the Former Presidents Act of 1958. That bill was enacted when news broke that former president Harry Truman was living on little more than his Army pension: As a matter of principle, Truman refused to give paid speeches, make endorsements or serve on corporate boards, because he believed such actions demeaned the dignity of the presidency. Phrases like “the dignity of the presidency” and “as a matter of principle” don’t seem to have much meaning anymore in politics. But the whole point of the Former Presidents Act was to enable previous White House occupants to live comfortably without having to sell their names. Now Clinton is selling his name like mad, while George H. W. Bush, who was born into wealth, demands subsidies too. Thank goodness the dignified Truman did not live to see this selfish spectacle of ex-presidential money-grubbing.

I guess in a way, I’m glad that many politicians generally take pay cuts- it is public service, after all. And there are probably many not-well-known representatives for whom their congressional salary is the highest of their career– I kind of like that too– they are “normal folk.”

No former federal politician should be destitute on the street (no one in America period, actually). I’m glad we had some funds available to help out Mr. Truman. I don’t expect former presidents to go “back to work” per se. But these other politicians?

After his failed vice-president run, John Edwards came to UNC and ran/created the Center for Work, Poverty, & Opportunity. I went to several of their events, he came and spoke to one of my classes. In other words, he was doing real work. I don’t call this “back to work”– it was a short-term thing, gathering information, and certainly gaining political capital. My point, though, is that I never saw anyone tripping all over themselves to get his attention. After another 2-4 years of this kind of “because I’m John Edwards” work, if he doesn’t get back in politics, should do more conventional work. (it sounds like I’m picking on him– this is just the best example I can think of. I expect he will do something political, like work at a thinktank, or lobby, maybe run for office).

He was a lawyer before, and apparently a pretty good one. Why not go and work for a legal aid firm? Better yet, use his fame and seek out class-action lawsuits. Some of them would probably make me glad, some would make me mad, but that’s his decision. Another thing he should love: representing low-income working families who are in a dispute with their health insurance company about coverage of a certain treatment. He could work for a think tank 3 days a week and bank that and do pro bono stick-it-to-the-man legal stuff on the side.

If Mr. Edwards reads this blog (Ha ha), remember me? I met you at the free tax assistance site in 2006 that was being done by an undergraduate group. C’mon man, we took our picture together, it was your idea, truthfully! (except that it was my idea). I’m not telling you how to run your life sir, just angling for a job in your posse… (you need a fiscal conservative to play devil’s advocate).

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5 Responses to “Retirement benefits for ex-presidents”

  1. […] hearkening back to my post on retirement benefits for politicians, this shows that I did in fact meet the man and he was around, even making time to visit an […]

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