The Nacilbupera Guzzle

Whoever examines with attention the history of the dearths and famines … will find, I believe, that a dearth never has arisen from any combination among the inland dealers in corn, nor from any other cause but a real scarcity, occasioned sometimes perhaps, and in some particular places, by the waste of war, but in by far the greatest number of cases by the fault of the seasons; and that a famine has never arisen from any other cause but the violence of government attempting, by improper means, to remedy the inconveniences of a dearth. (Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations IV.5.44)

Friday, May 11, 2012

Chaffetz' Proposed Changes to Former Presidential Benefits

Currently, our former Presidents are entitled to a pension of $199,700 plus an office, staff, and other perks established by the Former Presidents Act of1958.

At the root of the problem is the spending, as always.  In an article by Jonathan Karl this week,  the perks per president are now, at least in the two most recently retired presidents, above the $1M annually.  Politico chimed in with a chart showing the net worth of the ex-Presidents while both mentioned Clinton's and Bush's income in the $10M+ range.  It seems clear that our ex-Presidents do not need the people's money for their retirement, something I think George Washington and many others after would have countered.

History of the Presidential Pension

The idea of a presidential pension was floated in Congress after ex-President Truman "rejected several business proposals" offered him and seemed unable to maintain his lifestyle.  Thus in passing the 1958 act it was argued that “to maintain the dignity of that great office” Congress needed to use the people's money to prevent the ex-president from “in business or [an] occupation which would demean the office he has held or capitalize upon it in any way deemed improper.” (Congressional Research Service, 2008)

These arguments in favor of a presidential pension fall flat.  It seems to evoke two classes of labor: "dignified" and "demeaning."  I would really like for someone to put forth what constitutes "demeaning" labor for an ex-president who by law has no rights beyond what any citizen of the US possesses.  We fought a revolution against the aristocracy and kings and the entire concept of a presidential pension establishes a "King Noah" (Book of Mormon) dependent on the labors of others for his or her sustenance.  The 1958 act ought to be repealed.

Chaffetz proposed reform

Instead of repealing the measure outright, Chaffetz seeks to "modernize" the act with his Feb 2012 introduction of HR4093.  The bill gives the pension a $300 annual boost to $200K even and puts reasonable limits on these office expenses, capping them at $200K subject to income. (Jason Chaffetz Press Release).  These are quite reasonable accommodations and while again I think further progress is needed in eliminating the pension and allowance altogether, I have revealed my position by calling this "progress."  Indeed Rep. Chaffetz says this would save $3M annually.

 Where I really start to get a bit frustrated is that HR4093 quintuples the ex-presidential spouse survivor pension from $20K to $100K.  There has been no demonstrated need for this nor is there any foreseeable need.  We elect a president who is smart enough to lead a nation but can't prepare for their spouse's needs when they die?  Does the spouse of a deceased ex-president really need or deserve $100K of the people's money forced from the people under the threat of imprisonment?

In all, HR4093 as it currently stands is a disappointment from what it could be with some minor adjustments.  At least its six pages it is in keeping with the spirit of keeping bills short and readable.

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