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America's $3.7 million ex-president tab: By the numbers
Thanks to Truman's hard luck during his post-White House years, the U.S. pays a tidy sum to keep our former chief executives alive and well
 
Former Presidents Bush Jr, Clinton, Carter, and Bush Sr at the start of the 2004 dedication ceremony for the Clinton Presidential Center in Little Rock.
Former Presidents Bush Jr, Clinton, Carter, and Bush Sr at the start of the 2004 dedication ceremony for the Clinton Presidential Center in Little Rock. Jason Reed/Reuters/Corbis

"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:

$3.67 million
Total amount spent in 2012 on former presidents and their widows

$3.87 million
Total amount spent in 2011 (adjusted for inflation)

$4.17 million
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

$200,000
Annual pension each ex-president receives, plus more for the first post–White House years

$1.32 million
Allowance paid to George W. Bush in 2012

$85,000
Bush's telephone bill

$46,000
Bush's postage and printing tab

$395,000
Rent for Bush's Dallas office

$978,000
Allowance paid to Bill Clinton in 2012

$442,000
Rent for Clinton's New York City office

$842,000
Allowance paid to George H.W. Bush in 2012

$56,000
Bush Sr.'s travel budget

$518,000
Allowance paid to Jimmy Carter in 2012

$106,000
Rent for Carter's office space

$0
Health benefits drawn by Carter and Bush Sr. in 2012 (Carter is ineligible; Bush declined)

$14,000
Allowance paid to Nancy Reagan in 2012, for postage. She waived her $20,000 pension

$52.3 million
Total amount spent on all former presidents and their spouses from 1998 through 2012 (adjusted for inflation)

Sources: The Associated Press, Congressional Research Service [PDF]

 
Peter Weber is a senior editor at TheWeek.com, and has handled the editorial night shift since 2008. A graduate of Northwestern University, Peter has worked at Facts on File and The New York Times Magazine. He speaks Spanish and Italian, and plays in an Austin rock band.

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