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Lawmakers need to curb extravagance

Commentray

May 1, 2013
By BETTY J. POKAS - Area Editor , Times Leader

Enough!

With presidential libraries popping up like jackrabbits and taxpayers shelling out nearly $3.7 million for ex-presidents' expenses, it's time to call a halt to our expansiveness.

Long overdue is the need to reduce expenditures and perks available to members of Congress. Not only can they set their own salaries, but they're eligible for pensions at a time when many Americans have no pension benefits - that is, if they can find a longtime job.

Four ex-presidents as well as President Barack Obama were at the recent dedication of the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum. Former President Bill Clinton was joking when he referred to the center as "the latest, grandest example of the struggle of former presidents to rewrite history."

Remember the old saying, "Many a true word is spoken in jest." While the presidential libraries probably don't eliminate the negative aspects of a presidency, they undoubtedly place more emphasis on the positive.

Then, too, the presidents themselves can have materials withheld for a certain period.

With the two-term limitation for presidents, this undoubtedly means that more and more future presidential libraries.

Every president since Herbert Hoover has had a presidential library, and currently there are 13. Built initially with private funds, the libraries after construction are turned over to the National Archives and Records Administration and for the most part are operated with a combination of private and public funds.

NBC News reports that it cost taxpayers $75 million to operate the presidential libraries during the last fiscal year.

Private funds for the presidential libraries at least in recent years are raised while the president is still in office. That raises questions about whether the donor will receive some special privileges.

When Clinton was president, "songwriter and Democratic donor Denise Rich pledged $450,000 to the building of the Clinton library. In his final hours in office, Clinton issued a pardon to Rich's ex-husband, fugitive commodities trader Marc Rich, who had fled to Switzerland in 1983 before being indicted on fraud and tax evasion charges," according to NBC Politics.

Criticism of the pardon came from legislators in both parties, but Clinton contended the pardon for Rich, a supporter of Israel, was in response to urging from former Israeli officials and from Jewish leaders in the United States.

Clinton was not alone in granting pardons and receiving donations. According to the Sunlight Foundation, "President George H. W. Bush pardoned Edwin L. Cox Jr., who committed bank fraud, and less than a year later Bush's presidential library received a 6 figure donation from Edwin L. Cox Sr., the felon's father."

A bill was introduced in March, requiring disclosure of all presidential library donations which are more than $200; currently, donations aren't required to be disclosed. According to the Library Journal website, "Future presidential library foundations would have to report donors to the National Archives on a quarterly basis. The Archives would then post them online in a searchable, downloadable database. (The National Archives also manages many, but not all, of the Presidential Libraries.)"

Similar legislation has been introduced in the past, and the current bill, according to some, has an 8 percent chance of being enacted.

Another matter regarding ex-presidents is how much money they receive. The Associated Press recently reported nearly $3.7 million from taxpayers went for the four living ex-presidents and one presidential widow. That's about $200,000 less than in 2011, but the total for 2010 was higher.

Those figures are from the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service.

Ex-presidents as a result of the Former Presidents Act receive an annual pension equivalent to a Cabinet secretary's salary - about $200,000 last year in addition to $96,000 a year for a small office staff. The Associated Press went on to note taxpayers also "pick up the tab for other items like staff benefits, travel, office space and postage."

It was pointed out that Clinton's office costs taxpayers nearly $450,000 while George W. Bush spends $85,000 on telephone fees and $60,000 on travel. The government also paid $15,000 for Jimmy Carter's postage.

Then, too, one should consider the ex-presidents receive quite a bit of money for such things as books and speaking engagements - and these would have not been so forthcoming if they had not been presidents. In addition, their wives' books also are popular even though the presidential couple don't have credentials as literary greats.

With the government spending trillions of dollars on other expenditures, these costs for ex-presidents may seem penny ante.

But, are they fair?

No one expects former presidents to be reduced to poverty like some officials or their wives in previous generations, but it's not likely that any would suffer as Dolley Madison did after her husband died. Some people didn't repay debts to the Madisons, and some of her money was spent because of her son's problems.

She was reduced to accepting money from Paul Jennings, a former slave, whose memoir noted, in part, that Dolley in later years "was in a state of absolute poverty, and I think sometimes suffered for the necessaries of life. While I was a servant for Mr. (Daniel) Webster, he often sent me to her with a market-basket full of provisions, and told me whenever I saw anything in the house I thought she was in need of, to take it to her. I often did this, and occasionally gave her small sums from my own pocket ..."

With taxpayers picking up the tabs for officials' spending and also affected by cuts, it's well past time for the lawmakers themselves to cut back.

 
 

 

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