At the beginning of his presidency, Donald Trump made headlines when he refused to accept the presidential salary, instead donating the money to various government agencies (while it is constitutionally required that the president take a salary, Trump only accepts one dollar a year). It’s not that surprising (or that much of a sacrifice), as Trump is a billionaire, and the presidential salary of $400,000 a year probably isn’t that much to him.
Yet, as the years went on, people began to criticize Trump more and more for his outlandish spending of taxpayer money. Despite not taking a salary, Trump’s frequent golf outings and trips to his home in Florida led to expenditures of tens of millions of dollars. As President-elect Joe Biden prepares to take office in January, we have to consider the question: why do we pay presidents at all?
When the country was originally created, a presidential salary was considered a necessity. Some of the wealthier Framers, including Washington, proposed not having a presidential salary, but this led to the fear that no salary would discourage middle-class people from running for office, as they would earn no money. However, presidential luxuries were slim at the time, and presidents frequently had to pay for their own housing and benefits.
Times have changed, though. Now, presidents get to live in a full-scale mansion, complete with a staff of maids and bodyguards, a movie theater, and a bowling alley. Their meals are prepared by pastry chefs. They have their own private airplane, helicopter, and a fleet of cars. Presidents receive money for vacations and access to premier healthcare insurance. They have a special guest house for visiting dignitaries, as well as the country estate Camp David. To top it all off, presidents can receive a pension of more than $200,000, as well as protection for the rest of their lives. Furthermore, former presidents usually receive speaking and book deals that generate enormous revenues for them (Bill Clinton, for example, is reported to have made $15 million on his memoir).
This issue has come up before. In 2016, Congress attempted to cap former presidential spending at $200,000 dollars a year in a bill that was vetoed by President Obama, who believed it would negatively impact security for former presidents.
Perhaps presidents should be paid to be compensated for the enormous service they do for their country; nonetheless, $400,000 annually seems a bit high, especially considering the numerous benefits that they receive. In a country with increasing issues of income inequality, it seems a bit unfair that the leader of the country makes more than 99% of Americans. And while future presidents may not like it, it’s time for Congress to take a serious look at the presidential salary and ask: how much is too much?