Lawmaker on Bill Clinton’s taxpayer-funded TV: ‘Do you really need Showtime in your office?’

Alex Pappas and Vince Coglianese | Contributor

WASHINGTON – Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz says all the still-living former presidents of the United States “should be embarrassed” for spending taxpayer money on their offices when they are all millionaires.

During a Tuesday afternoon interview with The Daily Caller in his Capitol Hill office, the Republican lawmaker criticized a system — in effect since the 1950s — that allows wealthy former White House occupants to accept post-presidency monetary perks, courtesy of taxpayers.

While he said both Democrats and Republicans deserve blame, Chaffetz specifically criticized former President Bill Clinton, who TheDC reported Tuesday is using taxpayer funds to pay for extras including a DirecTV package of premium movie channels including Cinemax, HBO and Showtime. (RELATED: Taxpayers pay for Bill Clinton’s Cinemax, Jimmy Carter’s Dish Network)

“Do you really need Showtime in your office?” Chaffetz asked. “I mean, no government employee would be able to get away with that.”

“There’s no incentive for them to be frugal and it’s obvious none of them are,” Chaffetz said, picking up a stack of papers detailing the expenses. “If I went through this, you can kind of pick on each president here.”

In an attempt to reform this system, Chaffetz re-introduced the “Presidential Allowance Modernization Act” in the House on Tuesday. The bill died in committee during the last Congress.

That legislation would give all former presidents an annual $200,000 pension and an additional $200,000 allowance. But the allowance would be decreased by one dollar for every dollar over $400,000 a former president earns privately.

“It’s very bipartisan,” he added. “I think now is an ideal time to do it. We’re not picking on a Democrat or a Republican. We’ve got a balance of former presidents.”

Chaffetz’s bill would also increase the annual pension for widows of former presidents, from $20,000 annually to $100,000. Nancy Reagan — the only living presidential widow — declined the taxpayer-funded pension upon her husband’s 2004 death, but she used $14,000 in postage privileges in 2012.

Together, the four living former presidents and Mrs. Reagan spent $3.7 million in taxpayer funds last year. Assuming she continues to decline her pension, the legislation would result in a current cost savings of approximately $2.9 million, collectively providing the former presidents with only $800,000 in pension cash — since each of earns far more the $400,000 threshold.

Chaffetz said his interest in the subject was sparked “a couple of years ago” after he read a report. He acknowledged the money spent on former presidents is not very much compared to other government spending, but said it’s necessary to reform the system because, “You got to lead by example.” (RELATED VIDEO: Leaders with Ginni Thomas: Utah Republican Rep. Jason Chaffetz)

He emphasized that his legislation would not affect post-presidency Secret Service protection, which he believes former presidents should retain. “They are going to be a target, whether they like it or not, for the rest of their lives,” he said.

The Utah Republican had at least one Democratic ally in his quest to rein in former presidential spending during the 112th Congress. Pennsylvania Rep. Jason Altmire was the original bill’s co-sponsor, but he fell victim to re-districting and is no longer in office.

Chaffetz’s office circulated a “Dear Colleague” letter Tuesday — obtained by TheDC — seeking co-sponsors from the 113th Congress.

“This simple legislation is designed to end an unneccesary government handout to four millionaires (and those future former presidents),” the letter reads, “and to modernize an arcane law which misses the mark. It is also an opportunity for Congress to end another wasteful and excessive government spending program.”

“I’ll have to find another Democrat partner,” Chaffetz told TheDC. “Hopefully that’s not too hard.”

He also wants to sit down with the living former presidents to seek their support.

“My guess is if I sat down with each [former] president, I could shame them into supporting this,” Chaffetz said.

He acknowledged that he’ll need support from House leadership, but said he’s convinced his legislation will get a floor vote at “some point.”

“It’s not a ‘tier one’ issue,” he explained. “Everybody understands that. But this is one of those common-sense good-government bills that should be done in a very bipartisan way.”

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