Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Welfare for Millionaires

Gregg Easterbrook at ESPN rants on handouts for our millionaire ex-presidents. I can't put it any better than he did (including his conclusion), so here it is.

Wealthy ex-presidents reach into your pockets: Recently, the Congressional Research Service announced the federal subsidies requested for the coming fiscal year by ex-presidents Jimmy Carter, George Herbert Walker Bush and Bill Clinton. Globe-trotting Carter asked for only $2,000 for travel; Bush and Clinton, both millionaires, wanted $50,000 from taxpayers for travel. Bush said he needed $69,000 for "equipment" and $13,000 for postage. Is Bush planning to mail 32,000 thank-you notes next year?

What's really offensive is that all three filed for the maximum presidential retirement payment of $191,000 annually. All these guys are wealthy, the elder George Bush having significant inherited wealth, yet all want taxpayers to hand them pensions seven times higher than the typical Social Security sum. This is extra galling because Carter and Clinton aren't even retired! Carter continues to write books that sell well; Clinton is active on the corporate speaking circuit, having earned an estimated $10 million speechifying in 2006. Clinton prattles on and on about the horrors of inequality, yet demands $191,000 in bonuses from taxpayers whose median household income is about 1/20th of his estimated $10 million. Why didn't the three ex-presidents request no pension at all? That would have been the dignified thing to do.

To top it off, Clinton requested $79,000 for telephone service. It is impossible, physically impossible, to spend $79,000 on telephones! If Clinton had a 10-cents-a-minute long-distance plan, he could talk long-distance 24 hours a day, 365 days per year -- and you can imagine Clinton doing this -- yet fail to burn through $79,000. The most expensive package offered by Verizon Wireless is an international super-phone with unlimited texting and four hours of talk time daily; this sells for about $3,000 per year. Clinton could purchase two dozen of the most expensive cell accounts available in the United States for the tax-subsidized telephone budget he requested. Is Clinton's $79,000 phone request fraud, or is Clinton planning to use the money to buy phones for staffers working on his private speaking business? An ex-president who had financial problems might legitimately turn to the taxpayer. For all three living ex-presidents to be quite wealthy yet demanding public subsidies is shameful -- to say nothing of a failure of leadership.

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