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By Phil Piemonte

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Press reports may boost bill to trim reimbursements paid to former U.S. presidents

A spate of news coverage has put the spotlight on a back-burnered bill that would reduce the annual taxpayer-provided allowance paid to former U.S. presidents dollar for dollar for any personal income they report over $400,000.

News reports over the past week — spearheaded by a report by Jonathan Karl in the Spinners and Winners blog from ABC/Yahoo News —have highlighted the expenses that ex-presidents run up on the taxpayers’ tab, all while they earn large amounts for speeches, book deals and other income-generating activities.

Former presidents earn an annual pension of $200,000, plus expenses. But former presidents make large, additional amounts of money just because of who they are. Just for giving speeches, Karl notes, Bill Clinton last year earned more than $10 million in speaking fees, and George W. Bush earned $15 million.

At the same time, ex-presidents still get reimbursed for expenses. A raft of articles — including one in the U.K.’s Daily Mail — reported those amounts. Former President Jimmy Carter, for example, last year was reimbursed by the government for about $518,000 in expenses, George H.W. Bush pulled in $830,000, Bill Clinton got about $1.1 million and George W. Bush tallied expenses of $1.3 million. All in all, government-paid expenses for the four men totaled more than $3 million in 2011.

While that may seem like a drop in the bucket in terms of the overall federal budget, the revelation comes at a time when Congress and the administration are looking to trim back spending, pull millions of dollars out of popular programs and downsize the federal workforce and federal employee benefits.

As the some of the reports, such as the one in Politico, note, House lawmakers introduced a remedy months ago — the Presidential Allowance Modernization Act (H.R. 4093). The bill reforms the Former Presidents Act of 1958, which came into being when former President Harry Truman was having a hard time making ends meet.

As one of the sponsors of H.R. 4093, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), stated in a press release back in February when the bill was introduced, “There’s little reason why American taxpayers should be subsidizing these former presidents when they’re doing fine on their own. This legislation modernizes an old law and saves the taxpayer millions of dollars in the process.”

According to the sponsors, ex-presidents would receive a guaranteed $200,000 annual pension, and an additional $200,000 annual allowance “for all other costs associated with being a former president…”

A “reduction provision” in the bill would trim the annual allowance portion for each dollar of a president’s reported income over $400,000 — a measure that effectively would eliminate the taxpayer-provided allowance for active earners like the current crop of former presidents.

While readers of this blog typically oppose bills that tamper with retiree benefits, we’ll bet this one may be the exception.

Posted by Phil Piemonte on May 16, 2012 at 4:02 PM

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