Presidential Perks: Paying for Carter’s postage, Bush’s bills, and Clinton’s rent

Spinners and Winners

You could call it welfare for former Presidents.

It's a little-noticed part of the federal budget: Each year U.S. taxpayers pick up the tab for the expenses of our former Presidents. For the likes of Carter, Clinton and Bush that means free rent, postage, phone and office staff — all courtesy of the U.S. taxpayer.

In 2010, taxpayer-financed expenses included $15,000 for Jimmy Carter's postage, $579,000 for Bill Clinton's rent and a whopping $80,000 for George W. Bush's phone bills. It adds up: All told, U.S. taxpayers were on the hook for more than $3 million of expenses for the four surviving former U.S. presidents.

They certainly don't seem to need the money. These days being a former U.S. President is a lucrative business. After all, Bill Clinton raked in more than $10 million just in speaking fees last year. George W. Bush made even more: $15 million just for giving speeches.

This entitlement for the very rich was put in place when at least one former president wasn't rich. Congress created this presidential entitlement in 1958 because Harry Truman couldn't afford to pay his bills.

Now that former presidents have plenty of cash, Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, is leading a bipartisan effort to end the gravy train, cutting off taxpayer-paid expenses for any ex-president making more than $400,000 a year. His bill recommends limiting presidents to a $200,000 annual pension and $200,000 in annual expenses, unless their personal income surpasses that.

"Presidents should get a compensation package. They should get a retirement, and they should get some expenses," says Chaffetz. "But if they're going to go out on the trail, and they're going to give speeches, write books and make money, then there comes a point where you say, okay, the tax payer shouldn't be responsible for also footing the bill for the office expenses, and the telephone paper, and the personnel, and those offices."

Check out this week's Spinners and Winners to see why ex-presidents are so costly, and what other efforts are being considered to try to reign in those costs.

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