A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Does Obama Want a Higher Pension?


Q: Does President Obama want to increase his pension?

A: No. Obama requested an additional $588,000 in FY2017 to cover pensions and other costs for four former presidents plus “new spending for new former President Barack Obama.”

FULL QUESTION

A post on Facebook states that Obama wants a higher pension. Does President Obama want his retirement amount increased?

FULL ANSWER

The rumor that President Obama wants to increase his retirement benefits started in March 2016 when conservative websites carried bogus stories with inaccurate headlines, such as “BREAKING: Obama Just Gave Himself a MASSIVE Pay Raise…FOREVER!” and “Obama demands a higher presidential pension and more benefits!

Another site claimed that “Obama wants to give himself a massive reward & YOU are going to pay for it.”

This led, naturally, to a Facebook image of Obama “demanding a higher pension.”

In all cases, the articles referred to a March 16 report by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service that carried a more staid headline, “Former Presidents: Pensions, Office Allowances, and Other Federal Benefits.” In that report, the CRS noted that the White House’s fiscal year 2017 budget requested $3,865,000 “for expenditures for former Presidents, an increase of $588,000 (17.9%) from the FY2016 appropriation level.”

CRS, March 16, 2016: The [budget] request includes language stating that the appropriation includes funding for “future former President Barack Obama.” President Obama’s anticipated transition from incumbent to former President is scheduled to occur on January 20, 2017.

But presidential pensions are set by law, the Former Presidents Act, and any changes would require an act of Congress, as also explained in the CRS report. Under the law, former Presidents George H.W. Bush, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush in calendar year 2016 each received $205,700 — which is “equal to the annual rate of basic pay for the head of an executive department (Executive Level I),” as CRS explains. Nothing in Obama’s request would change the pension formula.

Not all of the $588,000 increase is earmarked to cover the cost of Obama’s retirement. The budget justification document from the General Services Administration said $359,000 would be needed to cover the cost of Obama’s pension, staff, office and other related expenses. The rest — $229,000 — is needed to cover the rising costs of expenses for the current four living former presidents.

The GSA provided this breakdown of the net $588,000 increase:

  • $9,000 increase in pension costs for Presidents George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush and Jimmy Carter.
  • $9,000 decrease in travel and transportation costs for George H.W. Bush.
  • $359,000 in new spending for “new former President Barack Obama,” including funds for his pension, beginning Jan, 20, 2017, as well as money for his staff, office and other related expenses, beginning on July 21, 2017.
  • $19,000 increase in additional personnel compensation for George H.W. and George W. Bush.
  • $36,000 increase in printing and communication costs for Carter, George W. Bush and George H.W. Bush.
  • $163,000 increase in rental payments for Carter, George W. Bush, Clinton and George H.W. Bush.
  • $6,000 increase in equipment purchases for George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush.
  • $5,000 for increased contractual services for George H.W. Bush, Carter and George W. Bush.

That adds up to a net increase of $588,000. To claim that Obama is seeking “a massive pay raise … forever” or that he is “demanding a higher pension” is nonsense. He is merely carrying out laws passed by Congress to “maintain the dignity” of the office of the president, as CRS described the congressional intent of the Former Presidents Act. That law was enacted in 1959 in large part because of former President Harry Truman’s financial difficulties.

A chart in the CRS report (table 1) shows that taxpayers spent $3.3 million on the former presidents in FY2015, with George W. Bush receiving the most and Carter the least:

presidentallowances

Carter’s amount is much lower because his office space costs were the cheapest and, as a one-term president, he did not qualify for federally funded health benefits. Even though George H.W. Bush also served one term, he is eligible for health benefits because of his extensive government service — including as a congressman, director of the Central Intelligence Agency, ambassador to the United Nations and vice president. The total for FY2015 also included $6,000 to Nancy Reagan for communications expenses.

Obama will join that list on Jan. 20, 2017. That’s not quite four months into fiscal year 2017, which begins Oct. 1, 2016, so the $359,000 earmarked for Obama in FY2017 does not cover a full fiscal year and cannot be compared with the amounts above.

https://www.sharethefacts.co/share/1f0271d2-5c97-4c7e-a549-d706c5ee7797

Sources

BREAKING: Obama Just Gave Himself a MASSIVE Pay Raise…FOREVER!” The Political Insider. Undated, accessed 19 May 2016.

Daniels, Kit. “Obama asks for a pay raise.” Infowars.com. 18 Mar 2016.

Parker, Christy Lee. “Obama wants to give himself a massive reward & YOU are going to pay for it.” 18 Mar 2016.

Ginsberg, Wendy and Daniel J. Richardson. “Former Presidents: Pensions, Office Allowances, and Other Federal Benefits.” Congressional Research Service. 16 Mar 2016.

U.S. General Services Administration. “FY 2017 Congressional Justification.” 9 Feb 2016.