Bush Should Return His $200,000 Pension

George W. Bush speaks at a campaign rally in 2004.

Image via Wikipedia

The economic crisis has collapsed the retirement accounts of millions of Americans, but one pension that’s guaranteed belongs to the Texan with the single-letter nickname: W. The nation’s 43rd president will, this year, collect almost $200,000 in retirement money – an amount that will supplement the millions he’ll earn from his memoir and speeches, and the millions he already has.

The rich get richer. Nothing wrong with that. Except in the case of an ex-president who doesn’t need the money, and could rehabilitate his image by donating his government pension to a good cause – say, for the families of Iraqi civilians and U.S. soldiers killed in the war that Bush instigated; or for the continued rebuilding of New Orleans, whose flooding became a symbol of Bush’s presidential ineptness; or for workers laid off in a downturn that started under Bush’s watch.

Such benevolence would renew the “compassionate conservative” label that helped galvanize Bush’s base in 2000. Bush would be following in the footsteps of other former presidents (most notably Jimmy Carter) who give time or money to needy causes. He would also be connecting himself to a former president who inaugurated the practice of presidential pensions: Harry Truman.

Truman didn’t ask for the money. In fact, the nation’s 33rd president was content with his Army pension of $111.96 a month. Truman – whom Bush was fond of citing – never took high-paying speaking engagements after office. The reason? He didn’t want to “commercialize” his position, according to author Matthew Algeo. Fifty years later, Bush is – if not abusing the privilege – taking advantage of it. Last month, he earned a handsome fee delivering a speech in Calgary. Later this month, Bush returns to Canada, where he’ll appear at a moderated forum with the man he succeeded: Bill Clinton.

Clinton is another nicely paid former president who doesn’t really need the elaborate pension – and expense money – he gets from Washington every year. Maybe their joint appearance in Toronto will inspire both ex-presidents to announce they’re donating their pensions to charity. The gesture would make international headlines. The National Taxpayers Union estimates that Bush will receive more than $5 million in presidential pension money if he reaches the same age as his father is now (84). In 1988, Ann Richards famously said that George W. Bush was “born with a silver foot in his mouth.” She also called him “poor,” but she didn’t mean it the monetary sense. Not at all.

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9 Responses to Bush Should Return His $200,000 Pension

  1. Rick Ungar says:

    This is certainly one way to look at it. But if we do so, then should we not also say that people who don’t need social security should give it up as should people who don’t need government provided Medicare? What you are suggesting is that all government entitlements (a pension is, after all, an entitlement) should be converted to government insurance. If you need the money you get it. If you don’t need the money, you don’t. I’m curious who gets to decide when a president needs the money and when he or she does not?
    I’m not necessarily against this approach, I’m just saying that there is more to it than not giving pensions to presidents who we might think are too rich.

    • Rick. You certainly make some good points — not the least of which is, “Who decides when a president needs the money?” I’m not advocating a commission, say — I’m saying that, in the particular case of George W. Bush, it would be the right thing for him to return his pension. Clinton, too. They are millionaires many times over, and will both earn millions this year at a time when millions are losing their jobs. As for things like social security, that’s a sacrosanct entitlement. I’m not suggesting that these government programs be touched. Just that rich ex-presidents think twice about their need for pension money.

  2. mixgasdivr says:

    No, he shouldn’t.

  3. scurvy says:

    I can agree with the pensions. Not matter how poor a president, they still did a job and the actual pension probably should belong to them. What I think we need to stop paying for is all the other stuff they get.

    The Former Presidents Act says that they get office space, postage, staff etc. For example Mr. Clinton is costing the somewhere a little over $1,000,000 a year. The elder Bush about $750,000 a year. Carter somewhere around $500,000 a year.

    I think it is about time the Former Presidents Act get reworked. After all it is a relic of the 1950’s.

    • Thanks for your comments. You’re right to point out that expenses take up a lot of the ex-presidents’ bill to taxpayers. I briefly mention that, but you list numbers that really drive the point home. I agree that the act is a relic of an earlier time in America, and that it needs to be seriously reconsidered.

  4. mrsandyclark says:

    Jonathan,

    Clinton created the William J. Clinton Foundation to promote and address international causes such as treatment and prevention of HIV/AIDS and global warming. So, it seems comparing him to W. isn’t really fair. W. may find a cause later. Legally, they are both entitled to their pensions whether one sits on his ass or not.

    Both make money speaking and Bill may have to work a little harder to get back the money his wife loaned her campaign as it is now a loss. Although, they may keep their assets separate for all I know. Congress set up pensions for past presidents among other things and what they made/make from the government.

    How they choose to spend it, is completely up to them. I think Bill Clinton is naturally more of a humanitarian, but that doesn’t obligate him to give all his money away. He and Hillary have one daughter and I am sure she will be well provided for when her parents pass. I also believe both her parents will donate a lot of that money as well. It just seems likely as their lives have been built around Public Service.

    W. I don’t have that same confidence in, but it really is none of my business what either does. If I sit around and judge them, I choose to be unhappy. I say just let it go.

    Sandy

    • Sandy. Thanks for your thoughts. As someone who voted for Clinton twice, and who knows about his foundation work, I know that he reaches out to the world in way that many people (me included) do not. I certainly admire his foundation work. But in this Great Recession, donating his pension to a good cause would carry great symbolism. This is especially true for Bush. As for being unhappy by focusing on the pensions of Bush and Clinton — I agree with you. I probably would be happier focusing on other things, such as my beautiful almost-eight-year-old son, a fantastic person who is hanging out with me this morning as I reply to these comments.

      • mrsandyclark says:

        Jonathan,

        When I said “If I sit around and judge them, I choose to be unhappy” was directed at me, not you, as I have I tendency to do that. I am poor, but have no debt and I was grateful to be able to donate to Hillary’s campaign around $1,100 and I did vote for her. I want her on The Supreme Court.

        I see your point about Bill Clinton donating his pension in these economic times, but it also opens him up to public scrutiny once again. If there is a wrong way to take a good act, there are plenty of people who will do so. I don’t know what the limits are that he can donate to the organization he started…there may be none. The symbolism may be lost if it turns into controversy (which he doesn’t seem to mind weathering) as it could rub the other “haves” the wrong way.

        President Obama wants Bill to keep a low profile and the act you speak of may be defying the current president’s wishes.

        You spending time with your son this morning sounds like an excellent way to start your day. I can actually envision it. Personally, I got up and fed my new kitten, Valerie, knowing the mayhem would start when she was done eating. She needs all the attention she can get and loves to play.

        I forgot to mention that I loved your reference to Ann Richards. Her passing was not just a loss for Texas. She was witty, smart and one-of-a-kind. I’ll miss her comments that would come out in good times and bad.

        Sandy

      • mrsandyclark says:

        Jonathan,

        I did vote for Bill twice as well. I don’t know why, but when I read that in your comments, my mind wandered right to Hillary. Sorry about that.

        Sandy

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