It’s time to tighten our belts

Taxpayers spend millions of dollars each for pension and other expenses for the five living former U.S. presidents — Barack Obama, George W. Bush, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter. That’s in addition to the cost of Secret Service protection for the former presidents and some of their family members. While this isn’t a huge amount of money in the context of the enormous federal budget, it is one of many expenditures by our national government that should be re-examined and trimmed.

Certainly, it is reasonable for former presidents to receive an appropriate pension and some support for legitimate office and travel costs. That’s what was anticipated when Congress passed the Former Presidents Act in 1958. No one would want a former president to be destitute. That individual’s service to the nation should be acknowledged appropriately for a lifetime.

In the modern era, however, former presidents are able to earn huge sums of money through speaking fees, book deals and other money-making arrangements. Consequently, it seems unnecessary for the federal government — and that means U.S. taxpayers — to shell out large amounts of funding to defray expenses they can easily pay for themselves. That’s why U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, has introduced the Presidential Allowance Modernization Act of 2017.

“With the national debt quickly approaching $20 trillion, we cannot afford to generously subsidize the perks of former presidents to the tune of millions of dollars,” Ernst said. “This legislation implements greatly needed reforms and saves taxpayers millions. Most importantly, it’s another step toward reining in Washington’s out-of-control spending.”

Ernst’s legislation would establish a cap on former presidents’ monetary allowances, which are currently unlimited and fund office space, staff salaries, cell phone bills and more. It would then reduce the allowance dollar-for-dollar by each dollar of income a former president earns in excess of $400,000. Her bill would set a former president’s pension at $200,000 per year and implement a first-ever cap on the monetary allowances at $500,000, gradually reducing to $250,000 over a period of 10 years.

It is imperative that the federal budget be brought in line with tax revenues. This nation must not continue to run huge deficits year after year. Reducing some of the funding for former presidents wouldn’t make a huge dent in the deficit, but it would send a message that our nation is serious about belt-tightening. Obviously, of course, the government should continue to pay for all costs related to the protection of former presidents. Ernst’s proposal makes clear that it would not limit funding for that security protection.

The Times-Republican applauds Ernst for her proposal and urges Congress to give it serious consideration.

It would be especially meaningful if the former presidents were to join together in a call for a reduction in the financial support they receive. Doing so would put our current leaders in Washington on notice that their predecessors in high office regard frugality as a necessity in this period of economic difficulties.