There are news reports that Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi plans for the House of Representatives to vote this week on an article of impeachment against President Donald Trump, who will have eight days left in office. The Senate was not scheduled to return to session until Inauguration Day on January 20th, but incoming Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is exploring options to bring the Senate back in order to expedite such proceedings should the House act.
Because of our 35 year history of investigating the financial benefits and other perks provided to elected officials, including exposure of a loophole whereby Members of Congress convicted of corruption can continue receiving taxpayer-funded pensions, National Taxpayers Union Foundation (NTUF) has received several inquiries regarding the impact that impeachment and removal from office would have on the perks afforded to former presidents.
The Former Presidents Act (FPA) of 1958 provides most of the benefits that are available to ex-presidents, including an annual pension equal to the salary of a cabinet secretary ($221,400 in 2021), office and staff allowances, travel expenses, communications, and printing. For a more detailed look at the perks, see NTUF’s issue brief from November 2020.
The Act specifically precludes former presidents who have been removed from office pursuant to Section 4 of Article II of the Constitution from eligibility for the benefits. It is worth emphasizing that mere impeachment by the House is insufficient to cut off such benefits; only removal from office by the Senate would cause a President to lose eligibility.
In addition to the FPA, ex-Presidents and their spouses are also provided lifetime Secret Service protection. In 1994, Congress limited the provision of protection to ten years, but this was reversed in 2013. The statutory language for this benefit does not remove eligibility due to impeachment and removal from office.
There are additional health benefits provided in the FPA that require at least five years of service or federal employment. Due to serving a single term and having no other federal employment, former President Jimmy Carter and President Trump are ineligible for these benefits.
Congress did have an opportunity to limit the lavish benefits to former presidents, all of whom are millionaires. Reform legislation to limit the provision of benefits if a former president’s adjusted gross income exceeds $400,000 was passed by voice vote in the House during the 116th Congress, but was blocked in the Senate.
With ballooning federal deficits, the new 117th Congress should take a fresh look at reforming the lavish benefits provided on the taxpayers’ tab to former politicians.