A Presidential Salary FAQ

Answers to your questions about the news.
Jan. 3 2001 4:42 PM

A Presidential Salary FAQ

What's the nicest thing Bill Clinton has done for George W. Bush?

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1) Decided not to leave a whoope cushion on the chair in the Oval Office. 2) Doubled his salary. In September 1999, Clinton signed legislation to raise the president's annual compensation from $200,000--its level since 1969--to $400,000. It was a gift to future presidents that Clinton couldn't benefit from (unless Hillary gets elected). Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution provides for the president to get paid but not to get a raise while he is serving a given term: "The President shall, at stated times receive for his services, a compensation, which shall neither be increased nor diminished during the period for which he shall have been elected ..."

How many times has the president gotten a raise?

The latest, which goes into effect this year, is the fifth. There is no mechanism to automatically adjust the president's salary; Congress must pass legislation authorizing it. In 1789, George Washington got paid $25,000 a year. In 1873, that went up to $50,000 for the second term of Ulysses S. Grant. In 1909, William Howard Taft got $75,000. In 1949, Harry Truman received $100,000. And in 1969 Richard Nixon got $200,000.

What would those salaries be in today's dollars?

So nice of the Congressional Research Service to answer that question. Because of the difficulty in coming up with a consumer price index for 1789, estimates of Washington's salary in current dollars run from $245,00 to $4 million. It wasn't as good a deal as it looks. Washington was not provided with the perks of a modern president. He used his salary and dipped into his personal finances for official duties. As for the subsequent salaries, $50,000 in 1873 would be about $678,000 today; $75,000 in 1909 would be $1.36 million; $100,000 in 1949 would be $685,000; and $200,000 in 1969 would be about $900,000 today. (Do-it-yourselfers can use this inflation conversion Web site to plug in various years and dollar figures.)

Does the president get an expense account?

Yes. Since 1949 a $50,000 annual expense account for official purposes has been provided. Although the president's salary is taxable, this expense account isn't. Since the president doesn't need cab fare, it most commonly gets used to host meetings that don't fall within the budget of another federal department or agency. The unused portion is returned to the Treasury Department.

Does the president pay for his own personal expenses?

Yes. If the president asks for doughnuts in the private quarters, he's supposed to pick up the tab as he is for his dry cleaning and other personal needs.

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