NEW YORK — At noon on Friday, 55-year old Barack Obama became a federal retiree.
His pension payment will be $207,800 for the upcoming year, about half of his presidential salary.
Obama and every other former president also get seven months of “transition” services to help adjust to post-presidential life. The ex-Commander in Chief also gets get lifetime Secret Service protection as well as allowances for things such as travel, office expenses, communications and health care coverage.
All those extra expenses can really add up. In 2015 they ranged from a bit over $200,000 for Jimmy Carter to $800,000 for George W. Bush, according a government report. Carter doesn’t get health insurance because you have to work for the federal government for five years to qualify.
The pensions and other benefits were first created in 1958, when former President Harry Truman was experiencing financial trouble. The annual payments are currently the same as what cabinet secretaries earn in a given year, and those salaries are set by Congress.
But the days of this kind of taxpayer support for ex-presidents may be numbered.
Last year, the Republican Congress passed a bill that would have set a flat $200,000 a year in pension payments and and capped other expenses at $200,000 a year per president. The cost of living increases for the pension would be tied to the same formula used to increase social security benefits.
But that $400,000 could quickly disappear under the proposed law, which cuts the pension and expense payments by a dollar for every dollar that a former president earns above $400,000. So taxpayers are off the hook entirely once a president earns $800,000 a year.
Given that most former presidents can earn significant incomes from speeches and writing books, it’s very possible that the taxpayer support of former executives could become a thing of the past.
But Obama vetoed the legislation, telling Congress that he did so because the bill also would have terminated that salaries and benefits of former presidents’ staff, and made it harder for the Secret Service to protect former presidents.
“If the Congress returns the bill having appropriately addressed these concerns, I will sign it,” he said. But the legislation never got back to his desk.
The president’s salary is $400,000, but during the campaign President Trump said he would decline the pay.