Good Question: What Benefits Do Former Presidents Receive?
MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Former President George W. Bush is recovering Tuesday from a successful surgery that put a stent in his heart. According to a statement released by his spokesperson, doctors at a clinic in Dallas discovered a blocked artery Monday in his routine annual exam.
The former president’s surgery took place at a private hospital in Dallas, which had some people wondering: What benefits do former presidents receive? How about members of Congress after they leave office?
“If you’re coming from a big company, you’re going to get a generous retirement package, that’s kind of ballpark for a president or member of Congress,” said Larry Jacobs, a political science professor with the Humphrey School of Public Affairs. “It’s a good deal, but it doesn’t make them rich.”
According to the Congressional Research Service, former presidents receive funding for travel, office space, staff, postage/printing and a pension of $199,700. They also have lifetime protection from the Secret Service, which was extended by President Obama in January 2013. In fiscal year 2013, funding for all former living presidents, minus Secret Service detail, was $3,779,000.
Before 1958, Presidents did not receive any pension or financial assistance. It wasn’t until former President Harry Truman had financial difficulties that Former Presidents Act was passed.
When it comes to health benefits for ex-presidents, the Congressional Research Services says there are no explicit statutes.
Generally, former federal employees must be enrolled in the Federal Employees Health Benefit program for five years to qualify. Former President Carter does not qualify because he only served one four-year term. Former President George H.W. Bush does qualify, but chooses to opt out. Former President George W. Bush is eligible and does receive health benefits.
As for former members of Congress, Jacobs says they leave with a pension and healthcare.
According to the Congressional Research Service, 495 retired members had pensions in 2011. For those elected before 1984, the average annual annuity was $70,620. For those elected after 1984, the average is $39,576.
Prior to 1984, Members of Congress did not pay Social Security taxes and were not eligible for Social Security benefits. Amendments to the Social Security Act in 1983 required employees after 1983 to participate in Social Security.
“Think of it this way, we’re putting an enormous amount of power in the hands of a fairly small number in Congress and one person in the White House,” Jacobs said. “You don’t want that person living on the edge, you want to feel like we’re going to compensate you for the service you give. If not, then we’re just opening the door for maybe a foreign power or a private interest or lobbyist who wants to buy off that member of Congress or the president.”