“There is nothing more pathetic in life than a former President.” – John Quincy Adams, the 6th President of the United States.
The former U.S. Presidents who are still alive might disagree with this statement because they’re better off than their predecessors were.
All presidents before 1958 had to rely on getting another job in order to get by financially. In 1958, though, the Former Presidents Act was signed into law.
Thanks to the Act, former presidents receive a taxable pension that’s equal to the pay of the head of an executive government department. As of 2015, the pension totals $203,700 US per fiscal year. The pension was created to make sure that out-going presidents don’t leave the White House poor. 33rd President Harry Truman left the White House in 1953 with only an army pension of $112 US per month. Truman’s successor, Dwight D. Eisenhower, a great general before being elected president, would have received the same army pension after his presidency ended. Conveniently, though, the Former Presidents Act was signed into law 3 years before he left office.
Some U.S. politicians today think that former presidents should no longer receive the pension because they don’t need it anymore. They’ve gone on to make large amounts of money through speech fees and book deals. For example, 42nd President Bill Clinton has earned over $US100 million by giving speeches and writing books since his term in office ended in 2001.
Along with the pension, former presidents are given additional funding from the U.S. government for office space, as well as staff, travel, and postage fees. This is also thanks to the Former Presidents Act.
The act also enables former presidents to be treated in military hospitals, but only if they pay medical insurance at interagency rates set by the Office of Management and Budget.
As if all this wasn’t enough, former presidents have their own accommodation opposite the White House when they’re in Washington D.C. They’re also given lifetime protection from the Secret Service which they can relinquish at any time, but at this stage Richard Nixon is the only one to have done so.
What do UTas students think about the Former Presidents Act? Do they think it should be amended or left as it is?
Benjamin Vaszocz, a UTas student who is doing a Bachelor of Business in Accounting, thinks it should be amended.
“The sheer amount of money that’s wasted on the pension is ridiculous,” he says. “I think that it isn’t a necessity. The other benefits such as the funding for postage and the eligibility for treatment in military hospitals is fair. But the pension should be scrapped or, at the very least, reduced.”
Other people, like former UTas Police Studies student Emma Boucher, think it should be left as it is.
“I don’t think it’s completely unfair to supply former presidents with these things given what some of them have done for their country,” Emma says.
Sean Harding, a UTas Bachelor of Media student, thinks that former presidents should only receive the benefits of the Act only if they qualify for them. For example, former presidents who have not served in the United States Army should be excluded from receiving treatment in military hospitals.
Personally, I’m with Ben on this one. I think the pension should be reduced. Not only do former presidents no longer need such a large amount of money to get by, but I believe the money would be better spent in important sectors, like foreign investments. The other aspects of the Act should remain unchanged.
The Act, being law, can only be amended or scrapped by a bill that is signed into law by the President. Before he left office, Obama was presented with this exact bill, and vetoed it (which was perfectly legal for him to do). So the perks of being a former president will remain intact for the time being.