The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

Columns

January 12, 2013

Words of concern for middle class ring hollow after Secret Service extension

By nature, Americans are an optimistic lot. They’d prefer to believe the best.

But Congress and the president make it nearly impossible for anyone to root for them. Just when America starts to believe they will do the right thing, they don’t.

CBS News reported that President Obama signed into law Thursday a measure that will reinstate lifetime Secret Service protection for former presidents and their spouses.

This is how the executive and legislative branches cure the fiscal cliff?

CBS reported the Secret Service does not say how much the security details cost, but the program is estimated to cost tens of millions of dollars a year for each past president.

Those eligible for Secret Service protection include Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush and their spouses. Nancy Reagan is eligible as Ronald Reagan’s widow.

The law also allows for protection of a president’s children until they are age 16. Before he left office, George W. Bush signed an executive order extending protection for his daughters, Jenna and Barbara. Again, the Secret Service won’t say how long that protection was extended or whether it’s still in force.

Congress limited the protection in 1994 as a cost-cutting measure, reducing the tenure to a decade removed from office. George W. Bush is the first president to whom the limitations would have applied under terms of that bill.

The lame ducks of last month couldn’t get a budget through or extend America’s fiscal business beyond a couple of months, but they found time for this boondoggle.

“The world has changed dramatically since the 9/11 terrorist attacks,” Texas Congressman Lamar Smith said during House debate on the bill in November, CBS reported. “We must make sure that the safety and security of our former chief executives is not jeopardized,” the Republican added.

Former presidents and their spouses can refuse Secret Service protection. Richard Nixon did so in 1985, which was 11 years after he left office, CBS reported.

No president has been attacked or assassinated after leaving office. Abraham Lincoln, James Garfield, William McKinley and John F. Kennedy lost their lives during their terms. Other presidents in office and waiting to take office after being elected had attempts on their lives.

After a decade out of office, it’s doubtful a president has much value as a national security asset to would-be kidnappers. If the former president or spouse remains active in national service, the person will likely be eligible for Secret Service protection anyway, as is the case with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

“I think we have seen that being a former president can be a pretty lucrative career, and I feel that after 10 years, if these former presidents feel the need for additional security, they should pay for it themselves,” North Carolina Congressman Howard Coble said in a statement, CBS reported. Coble, a Republican, supported the 1994 bill to limit protection for former presidents to just 10 years.

According to Coble’s website, he puts his money where his mouth is. His office announced he would return $200,000 of his unspent congressional allowance to the nation’s coffers. Since he took office in 1985, he’s returned about $1.6 million in unspent money.

CBS reported the bill passed on a voice vote in the House and unanimously in the Senate.

If Obama is serious about cutting costs, he had the opportunity to veto it. His failure to do so reinforces the public notion that Congress and the president can’t do anything for the American people but they’re always ready to hand a blank check to a program that has their interests at heart.

— Young is a Register-Herald columnist. E-mail: ynerissa@frontier.com

 

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