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Copyright © 2002 Express Publishing Inc.
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For the week of May 8 - 14, 2002

  Opinion Columns

Why pensions for millionaire ex-presidents?

Commentary by PAT MURPHY

Before Washington opens its purse to individuals, businesses or non-profit institutions looking for financial help, they first must pass Washington "means tests" — qualifying for help based on economic need.

But Congress has applied no such rigid tests to one of the least needy groups on the dole — former presidents of the United States who automatically collect pensions and perks upon leaving office.

Each living ex-president — Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton — is a millionaire several times over, and in utterly no need of the pension Congress created in 1958 to help ex-President Harry Truman, who was so strapped he moved into his mother-in-law’s house.

The $25,000 pension paid to Truman has ballooned into the annual stipend of $166,700 (and adjusted upward periodically), plus more than $500,000 each for staff and an office, as well as free health care and other perks. (Costs of Secret Service protection are separate and amounts to millions of dollars per year.)

Now, some members of Congress as well as presidential historians such as Richard Norton Smith believe it’s time to question the need for the pensions while keeping the office and staff allowances in place.

Little wonder.

When Bill Clinton signed a $12 million contract for his memoirs and speaking engagements at $100,000 a pop, and his wife, Sen. Hillary Clinton, signed an $8.5 million contract for a book — and other ex-presidents were raking in their millions in speeches and books and investments — it was obvious that former chief executives were failing the "means test" required of others receiving government payments.

Furthermore, living ex-presidents have other pensions from former public posts — as members of Congress, as governors or, as in the case of Bush the Elder, as CIA chief and a diplomat as well as vice president and member of Congress.

Surely, multi-millionaire ex-presidents who’ve proclaimed their concern for tax burdens on Americans should be the first to recommend changing the pension to accommodate for colleagues in genuine need and not provide pocket change for rich ex-chief executives?

Communist Cuba has always been a cheap political straw man in American politics.

Broke, alone as the western hemisphere’s outcast, able to mount only a pitiable military force and led by a garrulous pipsqueak tyrant, Cuba has never been a threat to any nation.

Yet, while embracing the bloodthirsty mainland China regime as a favored nation and trading partner, the United States has isolated Cuba for 40 years and kept up the sizzling rhetoric about Cuba’s abuse of human rights, abuses that are less egregious than many U.S. allies, including China.

This U.S. pressure has failed to dethrone Cuban dictator Fidel Castro, but provides this benefit – it keeps South Florida’s hysterical Cuban-Americans pacified and secure as a Republican voting bloc.

Now a new development.

Speaking at the Heritage Foundation, the conservative think-tank that supplies appointees for the Bush administration, Under Secretary of State John Bolton says Cuba is fiddling with weapons of mass destruction, and therefore, in his words, "those that do not (renounce terror and weapons of mass destruction) can expect to become our targets."

Bolton offered no proof of Cuban weaponry and didn’t mention specific military action against Cuba.

But Bolton’s words may have several purposes.

First, the words benefit presidential brother Jeb Bush’s re-election this year as Florida governor among Cuban-Americans.

Second, Bolton may’ve hoped to quash creeping sentiments in Congress — led by Arizona Republican congressman Jeff Flake — to lift sanctions against Cuba to allow trade.

And third, the Bush administration may need a pushover military target easier than Iraq in its "war on terror" and is prodding Americans to think about war 90 miles off the Florida coast.


The Idaho Mountain Express is distributed free to residents and guests throughout the Sun Valley, Idaho resort area community. Subscribers to the Idaho Mountain Express will read these stories and others in this week's issue.