President George W. Bush will ride out the recession with a pension of $196,700. The pension begins immediately upon his departure from office at noon on Inauguration Day, January 20. And unlike many private sector pensions, Bush’s payouts will grow to $203,600 next year and $210,700 in 2011.
In contrast, private sector workers have their pensions insured by the U.S. Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. up to a maximum benefit of $54,000 in 2009 for those who retire at age 65 and elect payments as a single life annuity. But because Bush is age 62, if he claimed a private sector pension this year he would only be insured for $42,666. Former presidents currently receive a pension that is equal to pay for the head of an executive department.
In addition to a pension, the 1958 Former Presidents Act provides past presidents with support staff, office space, travel funds, and mailing privileges. The legislation aims “to maintain the dignity of that great office” and to prevent an expresident from engaging “in business or [an] occupation which would demean the office he has held or capitalize upon it in any way deemed improper.” Prior to 1958, former Presidents leaving office received no pension or federal assistance. Some former Presidents — including Ulysses Grant and Harry Truman — struggled financially after leaving office. Total allowances for former presidents in fiscal year 2008 were $518,000 for Jimmy Carter, $786,000 for George H. W. Bush, and $1,162,000 for Bill Clinton, fueled primarily by his office space in Harlem, New York. Carter’s Atlanta office and Bush’s Houston office are considerably less expensive.
Bush is also eligible for health benefits for life. Single term Presidents George H. W. Bush and Carter do not qualify for federally funded health benefits, according to a General Services Administration legal opinion. But two-term Presidents George W. Bush and Clinton are entitled to enroll in the group health plans available to federal employees.
Additionally, the U.S. Secret Service provides protection to former presidents, a former president’s wife until death or remarriage, and minor children under 16 years of age for up to 10 years, for any president who left office after January 1, 1997. Before that date past presidents received secret service protection for life.
On average, former Presidents who have subsequently died lived 12 years, 339 days after leaving office. Herbert Hoover had the longest post-presidential retirement period — 31 years, 231 days after leaving office. The shortest presidential retirement period was James K. Polk’s 103 days.
The National Taxpayers Union estimates that if Bush, now 62, reaches his current life expectancy of 83.5 years, his total pension payments will be $5.56 million.