Former President Barack Obama is getting a great deal of criticism for taking $400,000 for a forthcoming speech to a group of Wall Street fat cats. And if some lawmakers get their way, Obama’s seeming hypocrisy could cost him and future presidents.
News of the former president’s Hillary Clinton style speaking gig has prompted lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to consider bringing back legislation that would cut the presidential pension dollar-for-dollar for presidents who earn more than $400,000 from outside sources in a given year after leaving the White House.
The renewed congressional interest comes after Obama’s willingness to take money from Wall Street earned him criticism from liberal and conservative voices alike.
Vox’s Mathew Yglesias opined last month:
Obama should take seriously the message it sends to those young people if he decides to make a career out of buckraking. He knows that Hillary Clinton isn’t popular with the youth cohort the way he is. And he knows that populists on both the left and the right want to make a sweeping ideological critique of all center-left politics, not just a narrow personal one of Clinton. Does Obama want them to win that battle and carry the day with the message that mainstream politics is just a moneymaking hustle?
Of course, it’s just one speech. Nothing is irrevocable about one speech. But money doesn’t get any easier to turn down with time, any more than rebuking friends and colleagues gets easier. To make his post-presidency a success, Obama should give this money to some good cause and then swear off these gigs entirely.
A version of the legislation introduced last year was vetoed by Obama at the last minute with the then-president saying it would “impose onerous and unreasonable burdens” on the lives of former presidents.
But Rep. Jason Chaffettz (R-Utah), who plans to reintroduce the legislation in the House, contends that Obama was simply trying to protect his ability to rake in cash while still getting paid by U.S. taxpayers.
“The Obama hypocrisy on this issue is revealing,” the lawmaker told USA Today. “His veto was very self-serving.”
Currently, the five living former presidents are paid an annual salary of $207, 800 along with around $150,000 to cover staff and office expenses.
The bill currently being considered would cap each of those figures at $200,000 and subtract a dollar for every dollar a former president earns over $400,000 in a year.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, the ranking Democrat on Chaffettz’s Oversight and Government Reform committee, is signaling that his party won’t stand in the way of the bill’s passage.
“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 a representative from his office.