Ever since the United States declared independence in 1776 the country has cherished its newly implemented democracy. Although, the new changes steered the country away from displays of aristocracy and monarchy it’s still very difficult to avoid giving preferential treatment to the central executive leader of a country. After all – it is a big job, and time management gets a bit complicated when you have to balance family dinners and legislation signing.
Everyone knows that the presidential position comes with a very long list of responsibilities, however, if you happen to land the White House gig you’ll get to enjoy an even longer list of perks and benefits – including a personal, top secret ZIP code.
You simply can’t write an article outlining a list of presidential perks and not talk about the meaty salary. The paycheques have increased over time, historically every 20 years. Harry Truman left office in 1949 making a modest $100k, 20 years later with Richard Nixon in the House the salary doubled to $200,000. Finally, the last (most recent) raise in presidential history came in effect in 2001 – doubling the previous compensation of $200,000. Currently, the United States President receives a yearly salary of $400,000, and a number of expense accounts such as $100,000 for personal travel, $19,000 on entertainment, and a few others. While his salary is taxable just like anyone else’s, these expense accounts are not.
First on the list of presidential perks is the White House itself – breakfast not included.
Although it’s no Buckingham Palace, the White House has come a long way over the years. The not-so-modest mansion runs about $4 million in yearly maintenance, flowers alone costing upwards of $250k.
The complex includes the central executive residence flanked by East and West wings. All in all the 6 storey, 55,000 square foot house includes: 132 rooms and 35 bathrooms, 28 fireplaces, a tennis court, a bowling alley, a family movie theatre (more on this later), a jogging track, a swimming pool, a putting green, as well as a full size basketball court. Besides the impressive amenities, the president has access to pretty much-unlimited staff, as determined by Congress. The House employees 5 full-time chefs (one of which is strictly a pastry expert), a social secretary, a chief calligrapher, countless groundskeepers, florists, valets and butlers, totaling a total of 96 White House employees (not including security personnel).
No wonder that Ronald Reagan’s son used to call it “an 8-star hotel”.
Although, not everything is free for the first family, the President and his family doesn’t have to worry about everyday things like grocery shopping. In fact Nancy Reagan wrote in My Turn that “during eight years in Washington [she] didn’t once set foot in a supermarket or almost any other kind of store”. The White House budget covers pretty much everything but personal expenses, and funny enough the first family is billed for food they eat when not entertaining foreign dignitaries or public officials.
As you can imagine the President and his guests will have a hard time being bored during their stay in the iconic home. The house is equipped with many amenities that the President can enjoy in the safety and comfort of his own home. Take the above-mentioned private movie theatre for example – where the family can enjoy the latest blockbusters. This theatre is the epitome of luxury. Converted from a long cloakroom in 1942, the theatre currently seats 40 lucky guests in a red-dominated showroom overlooking the sculpture garden. The room is occasionally used to rehearse major speeches, but for the most part the theatre remains one of the luxuries the first family gets to enjoy. The audience is able to request movies and TV shows, choosing from a very impressive collection – Netflix can’t compete in this house.
‘Work hard, play hard’ is definitely applicable to the oval office.
The President has always been known to throw awesome parties at the White House. These events attract all kinds of big names, including Hollywood celebrities. Invites to these parties are extremely hard to come by, so invitees do not generally decline. The parties are quite lavish, and full of class – as expected from the presidential host. The Obamas are particularly well known for throwing memorable parties and Barack has even gotten up to sing for guests!
All off the legislation signing and singing to his guests will eventually tire out the President. Whenever he needs a little breathing space he can take a short trip to Camp David. The camp is located in wooded hills about 100km northwest of Washington, D.C. The area is secluded and very secure.
The camp perimeter includes 12 cabins, a swimming pool, a bowling alley and a skeet shooting range. Camp David was established in 1935, and each president since Franklin Roosevelt has made use of the amenities – President Bush used Camp David nearly every weekend when he wasn’t on the road. “It’s like a resort hotel where you’re the only guest,” Tricia Nixon commented on Camp David.
Although, the camp is not open to the general public, John F. Kennedy often allowed White House staff and cabinet members to use the retreat when he and his family were not there.
Next on the list of presidential perks is the classic armored limo. The iconic ride is designed specifically for the President, and every new President gets his very own new model. The Secret Service refers to the heavily armored vehicle as The Beast. The car can seat seven people, including the President. Similar to a NYC cab a glass partition divides the front from the back. The two rear seats are reserved for the President and another guest; the seats have the ability to recline individually to maximize comfort.
Most of the details of the car are classified for security reasons, but there are some details that we do know. The beast comes equipped with its own oxygen supply, night vision system, security measures against biochemical attacks, and much other defensive equipment. The trunk of the car holds a blood bank filled with the President’s blood type, to be use as an emergency measure.
Overall this beast is pretty much a small tank, the only downside of which is fuel economy. The reported fuel efficiency is about 8 miles per US gallon, or 29 liters per 100 km – definitely not ideal for cross country road trips.
Air Force One is next on the list. The presidential Boeing jet carries up to 100 people (including a 26-person crew). The onboard electronics include about 238 miles of wiring (twice the amounts in regular 747), with shielding tough enough to protect the crucial electronics from the electromagnetic pulse associated with a nuclear blast. The aircraft comes with 85 onboard telephones, a collection of two-way radios, computer connections, and fax machines. The plane is outfitted with countless security measures, and the aircraft can jam enemy radar and can inject flares to throw heat-seeking missiles off-course. To top it off – the plane can also be refueled in mid air, allowing the presidential convoy to continue without the need to land.
The plane has designated areas for all of the operations, complete with staff, media, security and telecommunication rooms. The President, though, gets to enjoy a personal suite located under the cockpit. This luxurious suite is complete with an office, bathroom, bedroom, as well as a personal workout room. The aircraft is also a great place to impress fellow heads of states, as Obama did when he invited David Cameron aboard to watch an American football match.
When the President travels outside of the Air Force airspace, the presidential team works hard to ensure his safety. President Bush’s trip to London in 2003 required over 900 staffers from Defense, 600 from the armed services, 250 Secret Service officers, 103 CIA staff, 44 staff from the State Department, 30 from the Cabinet, 16 congressmen and 12 sniffer dogs. This massive manpower is required to ensure the President arrives safely at his destination regardless of the 500 (on average) death threats he receives each month.
Security is one the largest perks the President receives. The Secret Service protection continues after the President leaves office, as well. The President, spouse and any children under the age of 16 are privy to lifetime security. Besides security, there are a few other benefits the president receives after leaving office. These include: pension, allowance, travel, health benefits and the presidential townhouse. Just to elaborate further on some of these perks and to put the out-of-office bonuses into perspective let’s take a look at what the taxpayers have to shell out to fund these benefits. Congress determined that former Presidents must travel as part of their civic duties, and are allowed up to $1 million in travel expenses. The Pension is the Executive Level One Pay, which is currently set at $199k, in perpetuity. The health benefit category only applies to Presidents that have served 5 or more years. This package also includes the bonus of priority and use of veteran’s hospitals. Interestingly enough, George Bush turned his down.
These taxpayer funded benefits are not too shabby, but they’re nothing compared to the money Ex-Presidents rake in writing books. Just to put some numbers to this claim: George W. Bush made $7 million for the first 1.5 million copies of ‘Decision Points’ and Bill Clinton netted a $15 million advance for writing ‘My Life’. Obama wrote ‘Dreams From My Father’ in his 30s, and although the book was initially only a modest success, it started flying off shelves when he ran for President. Book sales are still Obama’s main source of income – which helps to explain his massive net worth.
Getting a book deal is only one of many ways Ex-Presidents can make bank by capitalizing on their prior position. Another way to cash-out big while doing minimal work is by taking the podium. Former presidents generally get around $125,000 per speech. Bill Clinton especially finds this route to money appealing, considering he has given hundreds of speeches around the world since 2001. Clinton told CNN that he “never had any money until [he] got out of the White House,” and that he has been doing “reasonably well” ever since. Quite an understatement considering he’s earned over 75 million dollars since leaving office.