Chaffetz, Ernst to Propose Legislation That Could Affect Obama's Pension After Revelation of His $400,000 Speech

Barack Obama
May 4, 2017

Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R., Utah) and Sen. Joni Ernst (R., Iowa) on Wednesday said they will re-introduce the Presidential Allowance Modernization Act later this month to curb the pensions of former presidents if they take outside income that exceeds $400,000.

Chaffetz, the sponsor of the 2016 bill that was was vetoed by then-President Obama, and Ernst hope that President Trump will sign it after it was reported last month that Obama agreed to speak at a health care conference hosted by Wall Street firm Cantor Fitzgerald LP in September for $400,000, USA Today reported.

Chaffetz and Sen. Joni Ernst, the sponsor of the companion Senate bill, say they will re-introduce the Presidential Allowance Modernization Act this month. The bill would cap presidential pensions at $200,000, with another $200,000 for expenses. But those payments would be reduced dollar-for-dollar once their outside income exceeds $400,000.

The issue isn't a partisan one–or at least, it wasn't last year. The bill passed both the House and Senate with no opposition, and no veto threat had come from the White House.

So when Obama's veto came one Friday night last July–on the last day for him to sign or veto the legislation–it took lawmakers by surprise. It was the 11th of Obama's 12 vetoes.

"The Obama hypocrisy on this issue is revealing," said Chaffetz, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. "His veto was very self-serving."

At the time of the veto, Obama argued that the bill would have "unintended consequences" and "impose onerous and unreasonable burdens" on former presidents, which would require them to lay off staff.

Republicans did not try to override Obama's veto of the bill in July, which would have required a two-thirds majority in the House and Senate.

Democrats say they will not necessarily oppose the bill now, according to USA Today.

Rep. Elijah Cummings (D., Md.), the top Democrat on Chaffetz's committee, was a co-sponsor of the original bill. "Cummings definitely supports the concept, and if we can work out the technical issues with the bill that arose late in the last Congress, we expect he would strongly support it again," said spokeswoman Jennifer Hoffman Werner.

Trump has not taken a position on the legislation. But during the campaign, he said he'd take a close look at pensions for elected officials–especially members of Congress.

"The first thing I'm going to do is tell you that if I'm elected president, I'm accepting no salary, OK?" Trump said at a town hall in 2015. "They get benefits that nobody else can even think about, OK. And they don't like to talk about it. But we'll work on that."

Obama's spokesman, Kevin Lewis, said that Obama had no comment on the proposed legislation, according to USA Today.

Obama has already shown he has considerable potential to raise money in his post-presidential career. He and his wife Michelle have signed a publishing deal for two separate books, which the Financial Times reported was worth at least $65 million. And the Wall Street speech–a health care conference planned by investment firm Cantor Fitzgerald in September–will reportedly net him another $400,000.

"President Obama will deliver speeches from time to time," said Eric Schultz, a former White House spokesman who still advises Obama. "Some of those speeches will be paid, some will be unpaid, and regardless of venue or sponsor, President Obama will be true to his values, his vision, and his record."