WASHINGTON — Being the leader of the free world is an expensive proposition. And the costs don't stop once you leave the White House.
The government spent nearly $3.7 million on former presidents in 2012, according to an analysis just released by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service. That covers a pension, compensation and benefits for office staff, and the government also picks up the tab for other costs like travel, office space and postage.
The costliest former president? George W. Bush, who clocked in last year at just over $1.3 million.
The $3.7 million taxpayers shelled out in 2012 is about $200,000 less than in 2011, and the sum in 2010 was even higher. It's a drop in the bucket compared with the trillions the federal government spends each year.
Still, with ex-presidents able to command eye-popping sums for books, speaking engagements and the like in their post-White House years, the report raises questions about whether the U.S. should provide such generous subsidies at a time when spending cuts and the deficit are forcing lawmakers and federal agencies to seek ways to cut back.
Under the Former Presidents Act, previous inhabitants of the Oval Office are given an annual pension equivalent to a Cabinet secretary's salary — about $200,000 last year — plus $96,000 a year for a small office staff.
Departing presidents also get extra help in the first years after they leave office, one reason that Bush's costs were higher than other living ex-presidents. The most recent ex-president to leave the White House, Bush was granted almost $400,000 for 8,000 square feet of office space in Dallas, plus $85,000 in telephone costs. Another $60,000 went to travel costs.
President Bill Clinton came in second at just under $1 million, followed by George H.W. Bush at nearly $850,000.
Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, introduced a bill last year that would limit costs to a $200,000 pension, plus another $200,000 that ex-presidents could use at their discretion. The bill died in committee.