It’s Time for the President to Lead by Example (Reader Post)

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We survived The Fiscal Cliff, and the Sequester has come and amazingly a small reduction in the rate of growth to the federal government’s spending has not led to the collapse of the American economy. Granted, the president has chosen to use it to punish the American people since he has the convenience of his Palace Guards in the media protecting him. We were told by the press that if we voted for Romney we’d be electing an elitist who was completely out of touch with average Americans. I’ll be damned – they were right. That said, it’s time to acknowledge that the United States does have a spending problem, and it’s time for some hard introspection. I am calling on the president to look at his own costs to the American taxpayer and do the right thing. No, I’m talking about President Obama – I’m talking about former President George W. Bush.

Sometimes a few stories come out in the news whose timing aligns too perfectly, and last week was one of those times.Ace of Spades dropped two links about problems with funding our state pension systems. California does not have enough money to pay for its unfunded liabilities, while in Illinois payment for pensions is taking away the ability to pay for infrastructure. Add to that the story the one about Alameda County Supervisor Muranishi’s $400,000 per year for life pension and it’s not hard to connect the dots that our country has a problem in paying too many people retired from public service to not work at the expense of the public’s needs for today. But the story that piqued my interest regarding pensions from last week came when one of my generally left-leaning Facebook buddies decided to tweak me when I posted the link about California on my home page. He responded by putting up a link to a story about some other prominent retirees doing nicely on the public dime these days, namely our former presidents. In particular,George W. Bush was at the top of the list1.

In fact, Dubya topped the list at a whopping $1.3 million dollars per year. We all accept presidential pensions as part of the social contract – of all of the government jobs theirs is quite demanding and consumes more of ones life than most of us can even imagine. While I’m not happy about the $1.3 million per year price tag (or around $2.1 M if we add Bush 41’s bill), I’m more concerned about the family’s need for this much taxpayer money. Estimates have 41’s net worth around $60 million and Dubya’s at $20 million. This got me thinking, what if our last president seized this opportunity and decided to take a very proactive approach to helping his country’s ever bloating debt…

“My fellow Americans, it has been some time since I’ve spoken publicly to you. I have done so as a deliberate choice, as the words of former presidents still carry a great deal of weight. Given my understanding of the obstacles that President Obama faces, I would not want anything I say to seem to question or challenge him. That aside, I have come to realize that there is an issue that I need to speak publicly about. As it stands now my pension and retirement benefits are costing the taxpayers over one million dollars per year. Our family has been fortunate enough to have prospered in this great nation, and while I worked hard for you during my eight years, at a time when our federal government faces mounting debt I can not allow myself to be a part of it. At a time when government bodies at all levels are looking for new ways to raise taxes, we must first ensure that we are spending the tax payers’ money as responsibly as possible.

That is why I am foregoing my pension and all other benefits as a former president. Although some of my benefits, such as my Secret Service detail remain a necessity, I will reimburse the Treasury for the full cost. I hope that other public sector employees will follow this example, and evaluate each of their individual situations. I am not asking anyone to forego the pensions or benefits that they worked hard for throughout their careers – everybody has a different siutation, all the way up to my fellow ex-presidents. I understand that my pension is just a drop in the bucket of our federal debt, but if we all look within and decide on what is a fair shared sacrifice, we can help bring our country back to the road of a real and sustained recovery. Thank you and God bless.”

Sure, the cost of Dubya’s pension gets blown with just a few Vice Presidential junkets, but I’m looking at this more from a philosophical standpoint. This could also be a great way to help conservatives make public the case for reforming pension and benefit packages to retirees that are bankrupting the current generation. If we can get this conversation happening down to the state and local levels where large retirement packages make up a larger percentage of the liabilities for states and more so for localities this idea can have a real impact. Or maybe not. I don’t see too many on the people getting on board with this idea.While I generally like Bob Beckel as the leftist foil on Fox News, he defended Muranshi’s retirement package with a straight face. Sadly, I think that a lot more leftists feel exactly as he does and see nothing wrong with a completely unsustainable economic model. When we have states, counties and cities that still think it’s fine to follow the Greek model for fiscal suicide we may be beyond the point of no return. If that’s truly the case things won’t be able to get better until they get a lot worse and we all feel the effect of today’s fiscal policies.

But it doesn’t hurt to do the right thing today. And the Bush family would benefit from this as well. Such a gesture would go a long way to healing the rift between the GOP and the Fiscal Conservatives. As an added bonus it would build some credibility for their early choice for the GOP’s 2016 presidential nominee. And as an added bonus they will help the old school GOP by stealing some of the thunder of some of those wacko birds.

Crossposted from Brother Bobs Blog.

1. I had actually caught the former president story on CNN over breakfast that morning, but the idea for this post didn’t come until my buddy shared his link. Just giving credit to my “muse” where credit is due…

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I think that would be a really good idea for Pres. Bush, and it should extend to all members of Congress as well. It sure would piss off the lib’s…

@Scott in Oklahoma: This fantasy might occur about the time Oklahoma turns Blue. Good luck.

Might be of benefit to read the source – i.e. the CRS study on the benefits for the four living past POTUS.

We’ve had 44 men serve as the most powerful leader in the free world since the country’s birth. The Former President’s Act in 1958 bestowed benefits on just eleven of them. Since JFK was assassinated in office, Jackie and kids had SS protection until the kids were adults, and she married Onassis.

While some may wish to make this a “means tested” benefit, I don’t have a problem with former POTUS having these benefits since they are a rare club, having held that office, and still remain high profile representatives of US leadership.

I also believe that in modern times, a POTUS can’t just return to a low profile, private sector life without incurring costs… sometimes unwanted… because of their prior status as POTUS. This includes requests and correspondence for speeches and appearances that they may, or may not, want to accept. Travel related to their former POTUS status, etc. Just because you leave the Oval Office doesn’t mean that people don’t pester you for appearances and solicit services. These are costs they would not have, had they never served. So having offices and personnel is necessary… more so today than in the past.

I also think that a former POTUS and First Lady should have lifetime SS protection. It is no less a coup for enemies to kill a former US leader of the free world than the current. In 1994, a Dem controlled Congress and Clinton administration amended the FPA that SS protection was only for ten years past leaving office, and applied to any POTUS elected after 1997. This act, of course, left POTUS Clinton with the lifetime benefit, but any of his successors only had the ten years. Bush the younger would have been the first to only have the ten year limit for security imposed.

However the FPA of 2012 reinstated the lifetime security for Presidents and their First Ladies until death, and for children until they reach the age of 16. Obama, who’s family would also be limited in the same way as Dubya, signed that bill in January of this year. His youngest daughter, Sasha, will have one year of SS protection after the 2016 election, being born in 2001.

Also in the CRS study on pg 6, former Dem-turned-GOP Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz introduced a bill in 2012 to change some of the FPA’s benefits, including capping the pension, increasing a First Lady/widow’s pension, and decreasing benefits dollar for dollar for all income earned over $400K. The bill went into a GOP majority committee, and never reemerged. There is no political will for Congress to reduce past presidential packages. No doubt because they may think theirs would be next in line.

The current total for FY2012, per the CRS study on pg 8 of the link above, is $3.671 million for the four living Presidents’ pensions, office space, postage/printing, travel expenses, personnel, etc. (plus one $14K cost for Nancy Reagan for printing) Tho it’s more money than the past Presidents have utilized, and both Bush and Clinton have high costs, the value of these benefits has decreased because of adjusted inflation. And more of the appropriated money is being spent on their office space than pensions…. both having 8000sf facilities at current rental rates in buildings that would have to be secured.

I don’t support one dime of federal funds for any other public office after leaving service. I think all should go back to the private sector and earn their retirement benefits there. It might go a long way to imposing terms limits without legislation, since the appeal of being a career politician would be significantly reduced.

But I hold our US Presidents in a totally different category. It is a small, elite group of Americans who take on this responsibility. And it does take it’s toll on all. So I have no problems with benefits for past Presidents.

You’re a reasonable sort, Brother Bob. Figured perhaps another perspective might get the gray matter examining it from a different angle. Naturally, after Obama retires, the cost will likely go up, as the more recent President’s are going to have higher costs than say Carter or Bush the elder. I suppose one can hope for two term Presidents to keep the cost down… LOL

I’d love to abolish Congressional pension perks, but that would require Congress legislating themselves out of career opportunities and bennies. Ain’t gonna happen. Stuff like this makes me wish we actually had federal level referendums. That won’t happen either…

But I suppose you can toss Obama a few “atta boys”. He’s sending back 5% of his salary for this year to the Treasury, to “share” in the pain. That’s tantamount to $20K for the year, and taken out monthly. He won’t miss it, of course. He has other revenue. But I suppose if you want a good faith gesture, you got one.

@Mata, Obama’s “good faith gesture” would be like me giving up $200/month or so, which I wouldn’t miss too much if I didn’t have to buy food, transportation, utilities, tools to do my job etc etc etc…

I can see your point about the presidential pensions, although it would be a nice gesture. The speaking engagements are paid (very well paid) gigs, that’s a business of its own which easily supports itself and staff to plan the work out details. Not something we as taxpayers have any business paying for.

And Congress hasn’t got the self-discipline to conduct themselves ethically (with a few exceptions), I really believe many of them get into politics solely to make themselves rich.

@Scott in Oklahoma: Scott You’re gonna knock Obama’s give back with the Bush’s not giving back jack shit? How’s your ODS?

@MataHarley: Perhaps the 5% he is giving back can be considered a down payment for all the taxpayer $$$ his wife spent on shopping trips.

@Scott in Oklahoma, just because a former POTUS is offered speaking engagements, doesn’t mean he wants to take them. Dubya has done very few, and from what I have read, he’s refused far more than he’s accepted. Doesn’t mean he doesn’t have the expense of fielding unwanted opportunities, simply because he was POTUS at one time. As I said, if one wanted to slither into the background post Oval Office service, it’s not always possible. And just fielding all of the requests is an added, and perhaps unwanted, expense. That requires staff, mailing, business fronts, etc.

@another vet, I’m quite sure that Michelle’s personal shopping trips are paid for by the Obamas’ relatively substantial personal income, outside the POTUS salary. As for SS protection, the added expense on the tax payers would come if they have travel/lodging expenses. Otherwise they are always guarding the First Family anyway.

Do I think the Obama’s take advantage of their status too often, considering the nation’s middle class economic status? Yes. Then again, everyone invested in 401Ks, pensions, stocks etc are doing well, along with financial institutions right now because of a bogus stock rally. Do I find this first on my complaints about fiscal responsibility for federal government? Nope… bigger fish to fry. And personally I don’t want to sound like the lib/progs, whining about Bush in the past years for similar reason. If I just emulate them simply because Obama is a Democrat, I rightfully forfeit my whining rights, ya know.

@Richard Wheeler:, don’t get your Hanes in a wad with excitement, guy. Obama’s only “giving back” for one year, and that’s in direct response to the sequester agreement.

As I said, if someone wants a “gesture”, however insignificant, there it is. $1,666 per month, for one year, isn’t much to celebrate in the way of Administrative cost reductions. But it is $1,666 better than nothing.

My observation of that 5% was in reference to Brother Bob’s OP comment about gestures “going a long way”. However I don’t give Obama points above any prior POTUS for doing so as it relates to the FPA. Truthfully, you can’t equate this with Obama forfeiting any of his future post POTUS bennies either.

While we don’t know specifics at this point, I’d say that Obama’s FPA budget and costs will ultimately exceed Bush’s, as each succeeding POTUS budget generally does. His staff will be larger, as well as mailing/printing costs easily. And he’s already proven he is not Mr. Frugal.

@Richard Wheeler: Considering what Obama has cost us, compared to any other president in history, yeah, I’m gonna knock him Richard, at every opportunity. And what is ODS? I’m having first cup of coffee syndrome…

Scott Good morning That first cup sure tastes good As a former Merrill Lyncher I'd suggest there is no such thing as a "bogus" rally vs what "a legitimate rally?' Three major indexes up over 65% since early 08.Primary reason is sustained lower interest rates–Would note market is currently climbing “wall of fears” as short sellers nervously cover their incorrect bets. Take profits if you like. If recovery takes hold, as this leading indicator suggests, rates will rise and market will correct. R.E. Market's future is uncertain but trend is currently up with double digit gains in last 18 months. Doom and gloomers are predicting another major sell-off as rates rise. I believe if rate increase is orderly this market will continue to bump up at 5-7% annually—it's a long ,long way back to 06 highs. Unemployment rate is easing and should continue downward (albeit slowly) as confidence is restored first through consumers and then employers.
This analysis is admittedly simple in scope but after 40+ years working in equities and R.E I've learned only truly reliable vision is rear view mirror hindsight.–Also helps to have a monkey with a strong arm.

BTW Now realize this is response to A.V. "bogus rally" comment on ANOTHER post–I need more coffee –enjoy the day.

Semper Fi

rich, I’m the one who used the phrase, “bogus rally”. It’s real to the extent that there is cash available for the gains. However it’s bogus because it’s based on nothing sane about the global market and it’s projected security in light of the increasing global bailouts, individual nations’ debt etc etc. It’s also low volume shuffling of money around, attempting to get the higher yields since bond returns are barely break even.

One needs to think seriously about how sustainable the market highs are in light of fiscal realities. And I assure you, the quizzical eyebrow raising is not confined to me… as it’s all over the financial news stations daily. The Eurozone’s unemployment is rising, not falling. Europe is the US’s largest export market, and a larger economy combined than the US. In the US, as well as globally, the labor force is declining, which may bode well for statistics, but not for revenue.

Enjoy the ride, but be prepared to shuffle around the portfolio, hopefully prior to the inevitable decline. Remember that, historically, the markets have always been going gangbusters before crashes.

Obama’s “give-back” is nothing more than a symbolic gesture meant to dupe the ignorant. Politicians across the globe are famous for engaging in activities like this, even though when it comes down to the bottom line, nothing significant was ever done.

To me, this is similar to a Warren Buffet claiming he needs to pay higher taxes, knowing damn well that he would never actually have to pay the higher taxes, due to how he receives his “income”.

Some people ought to pull their blinders off. Try to follow the dealer’s hands as they play this three-card monte shuffle.

For the record, Obama’s “give-back” only amounts to around $20k. Or, about .00000125% of what the federal deficit will be this year. Or, about .000023% of the sequester amount.

@MataHarley: Agree with most all–Remember the more negativity professed by market nay sayers and short sellers—they need to buy back their borrowed shares–the better the chance for the market to rise,at least near term.
I personally am not in the market. Rather bet on baseball and football. lol

@Richard Wheeler: I don’t recall making that comment. What post are you referring to?

@MataHarley: Don’t think of it as whining. Think of it as giving the left a taste of their own medicine. There’s no sense in debating the big issue of balancing the budget and getting our financial house in order because they don’t have a plan nor do they intend to come up with one. : )