"Being the leader of the free world is an expensive proposition," says The Associated Press' Josh Lederman. And according to a new analysis by the Congressional Research Service (CRS), "the costs don't stop once you leave the White House." Between pensions, office space and staff, postage, travel, and other benefits, the U.S. spent nearly $3.7 million in 2012 on our four living former presidents and Ronald Reagan's widow, Nancy Reagan.
That's "a drop in the bucket compared with the trillions the federal government spends each year," says Lederman, but it's quite a hefty sum to pony up for ex-presidents "able to command eye-popping sums for books, speaking engagements, and the like in their post-White House years." That amount doesn't even include the secret cost of Secret Service protection for former presidents and their families.
But life wasn't always so easy for former presidents, says the CRS. Some, like Harry S Truman and Ulysses S. Grant, struggled financially in their post-White House years. So, "in 1958, prompted largely by former President Truman's financial difficulties, Congress enacted the Former Presidents Act," says the CRS's Wendy Ginsberg. "The FPA was designed to 'maintain the dignity' of the office of the president" so that no future president would have to struggle like Truman. How much does that work out to today for taxpayers? Here's a look, by the numbers:
Total amount spent in 2012 on former presidents and their widows
Total amount spent in 2011 (adjusted for inflation)
Total amount spent in 2003, the peak year (adjusted for inflation), when Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and Bill Clinton were all alive and drawing pensions — plus Lyndon Johnson's widow, Lady Bird Johnson
Annual pension each ex-president receives, plus more for the first post–White House years
Allowance paid to George W. Bush in 2012
Bush's telephone bill
Bush's postage and printing tab
Rent for Bush's Dallas office
Allowance paid to Bill Clinton in 2012
Rent for Clinton's New York City office
Allowance paid to George H.W. Bush in 2012
Bush Sr.'s travel budget
Allowance paid to Jimmy Carter in 2012
Rent for Carter's office space
Health benefits drawn by Carter and Bush Sr. in 2012 (Carter is ineligible; Bush declined)
Allowance paid to Nancy Reagan in 2012, for postage. She waived her $20,000 pension
Total amount spent on all former presidents and their spouses from 1998 through 2012 (adjusted for inflation)
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- How Ronald Reagan turned America into a nation of children
- Why is the West so afraid of Islam?
- Why Mitt Romney is perfectly poised for a comeback in 2016
- 10 things you need to know today: August 1, 2014
- The Nazi smart bomb that inspired China's most dangerous weapon
- 8 secrets to steal from power networkers
- How to make classic pulled pork
- 7 grammar rules you really should pay attention to
- What would a U.S.-Russia war look like?
- Here's the schedule very successful people follow every day
Subscribe to the Week