An effort to cut Barack Obama's pension
Like so many who leave government service, former President Barack Obama gets a pension. It's a good one, too. But with his decision to take to the lecture circuit, where his going rate is $400,000 per speech, some in Congress are bringing up the possibility of adjusting his pension to reflect his lucrative new income stream. They tried to do it before, in legislation that passed both the House and Senate with little fanfare. But Mr. Obama vetoed the bill:
...now that former president Barack Obama has decided to accept $400,000 for an upcoming Wall Street speech, the sponsors of that bill say they'll reintroduce that bill in hopes that President Trump will sign it.
"The Obama hypocrisy on this issue is revealing," said Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and sponsor of the 2016 bill. "His veto was very self-serving."
Chaffetz and Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, the sponsor of the companion Senate bill, say they will re-introduce the Presidential Allowance Modernization Act this month. The bill would cap presidential pensions at $200,000, with another $200,000 for expenses. But those payments would be reduced dollar-for-dollar once their outside income exceeds $400,000.
The issue isn't a partisan one — or at least, it wasn't last year. The bill passed both the House and Senate with no opposition, and no veto threat had come from the White House.
So when Obama's veto came one Friday night last July — on the last day for him to sign or veto the legislation — it took lawmakers by surprise. It was the 11th of Obama's 12 vetoes.
At the time, Obama argued that the bill would have "unintended consequences" and "impose onerous and unreasonable burdens" on former presidents by requiring them to immediately lay off staff and find new office space.
Republican leaders did not call up the bill for a veto override, which would have required a two-thirds majority in both chambers.
Democrats say they won't necessarily oppose changes.
Presidential pensions were introduced to avoid the national embarassment of having a former chief executive hitting hard times. The example of Harry Truman comes immediately to mind:
When Harry Truman left the White House in 1953, historian David McCullough records, "he had no income or support of any kind from the federal government other than his Army pension of $112.56 a month. He was provided with no government funds for secretarial help or office space, not a penny of expense money."
One of the reasons Truman and his wife moved back into their far-from-elegant old house in Independence, Missouri, "was that financially they had little other choice."
Nevertheless, Truman refused to cash in on his celebrity and influence as a former president. He turned down lucrative offers, such as the one from a Florida real-estate developer inviting him to become "chairman, officer, or stockholder, at a figure of not less than $100,000." He would not make commercial endorsements, accept "consulting" fees, or engage in lobbying.
"I could never lend myself to any transaction, however respectable," Truman later wrote, "that would commercialize on the prestige and dignity of the office of the presidency." He did sell the rights to his memoirs for a handsome sum to Life magazine. But he turned down every other enticement to trade on his former position for private gain.
The Obamas by contrast, signed a $60 million book deal. And now the speeches, at $400,000 apiece.
Cut his pension, and save the taxpayers a few bucks. Mr. Obama will never miss it.