Skip to main content

Donald Trump: The cost and perks of being president

Written By | Jan 14, 2016

WASHINGTON,  Jan. 14, 2016 — At a New Hampshire town hall meeting last September, Donald Trump said that if elected, he would reduce the pension and healthcare benefits given to members of Congress.

Senators and representatives are vested in the congressional pension system after five years in office. The average pension paid to those who retired under the former Civil Service Retirement System was $71,664 in 2013, according to the Congressional Research Service.

Those who retired under the current Federal Employees Retirement System received an average $42,048.

Cutting congressional perks without touching presidential perks might seem vindictive, so Trump  told his Rochester audience, “The first thing I’m going to do is tell you that if I’m elected president, I’m accepting no salary, OK? That’s no big deal for me.”

Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump: The irrelevance of American politics

And it’s not. Trump’s net worth is currently around $4 billion. If he converted his assets to cash and invested them at 1 percent, he’d pull in $40 million per year. If he invested that $40 million at 1 percent, he’d make the salary being paid to President Obama, $400,000 per year.

For Trump, the president’s salary is only interest on the interest he’d earn, and only if he were putting his money into a low-yield investment like a 36-month CD. If he put his entire fortune into a regular NOW account, he’d still make $400,000 per year on the 0.01 percent interest.

Given the limits that the office places on a President’s opportunities to make money on the side with personal business, Trump might take a large income hit if he won the election, even if he accepted the presidential salary.

It is, as he says, a hit he can afford to take.

There are other sacrifices he’d have to make. He described the armored limos he has to ride in now to a crowd in Vermont last week. According to Mark Steyn, Trump explained “how many rounds it could take before the window disintegrated, and how the security guys shove you in and let the reinforced door slam you in the ass. And the thing’s ugly as hell. ‘If I win,’ sighed Trump, ‘I’ll never ride in a Rolls-Royce ever again.’”

There are, of course, compensating perks for the ugly limo. Here are just a few:

  1. The White House: The President lives in a 132-room mansion in the heart of Washington. It comes
    Cristeta Pasia Comerford (born 1962) is a Filipino-American chef who has been the White House Executive Chef since 2005. | White

    Cristeta Pasia Comerford (born 1962) is a Filipino-American chef who has been the White House Executive Chef since 2005. | White

    furnished, and includes a theater, bowling alley, hair salon, swimming pool and laundry services. It comes with a staff that includes chefs on duty 24 hours a day, a chocolatier, a pastry chef, calligraphers, florists, valets and all the service and support staff required in a house that size.

    There are fresh flowers in every room every day and floral displays on the grounds, at a total cost of $250,000 per year. At Christmas, there are dozens of Christmas trees, with other seasonal displays around the year. (Picture above)

  2. Camp David: If the White House starts to feel cramped, the President and his family and friends can decamp to Camp David, a mountain-top retreat in Maryland. It includes 11 cabins (some of them are probably nicer than your house), an extensive fitness center with an indoor pool, an outdoor pool, shooting range, office cabin and bowling alley.
    President Obama at Camp David -| White image

    President Obama at Camp David -| White image

    It’s only 62 miles from the White House, but the president doesn’t have to drive there in his ugly limousine; he flies there in

  3. A helicopter: Marine One ferries the president to Camp David, Andrews Air Force Base and anywhere else he needs to go in the Washington area. Marine One isn’t a single helicopter; it’s any one of a fleet of helicopters that he happens to be on. If he takes it to Andrews AFB, it’s probably because he wants to ride another perk,
  4. Air Force One: Like Marine One, Air Force One isn’t a single plane. It’s one of two specially outfitted Boeing 747-200B series airplanes. It comes with missile defenses, it’s hardened against electromagnetic pulse, and it can be refueled in flight. It has two galleys that can feed 100 people—not airline food—a medical suite that can serve as an operating room and a large suite for the president.When the president flies in Air Force One, C-141 Starlifter cargo planes carry anything the president might need that won’t fit in his plane, including his ugly limousines.

There are other perks that for most people would be nothing to sneeze at—a retirement package that includes a $190,000 per year pension, office staff, office space and Secret Service protection for 10 years—but that may not be up to Trump’s standards.

He, or she, also gets a state funeral when he dies, a perk that he may not actually enjoy but that might be nice to contemplate.

Even for a man in Trump’s rarified financial world, the presidency offers compensation far beyond the mere salary, and a former president—President Clinton springs to mind—can leverage the office into enormous financial rewards when he leaves it. There’s no limit to what a man with Donald Trump’s brash and exuberant imagination could do as a former president.

The presidency is a burden, but whoever wins the election will get a fleet of planes, unlimited golf and other perks that will let him or her live as well as Donald Trump, and a whole lot better than this week’s Powerball winners. We can appreciate Trump’s willingness to turn down the salary without worrying that he’ll have to reduce his standard of living while he’s in office.

If Trump wins and relinquishes his salary, he’ll be the third president to do so. Herbert Hoover donated his $75,000 salary ($1,062,000 in today’s terms, adjusted for inflation) to charity, and Kennedy declined his $100,000 salary ($723,000 in today’s terms).

No one in his right mind will ever turn down the chefs or Air Force One.

Jim Picht

James Picht is the Senior Editor for Communities Politics. He teaches economics and Russian at the Louisiana Scholars' College in Natchitoches, La. After earning his doctorate in economics, he spent several years doing economic development work in Moscow and the new independent states of the former Soviet Union for the U.S. government, the Asian Development Bank, and as a private contractor. He has also worked in Latin America, the former USSR and the Balkans as an educator, teaching courses in economics and law at universities in Ukraine and at finance ministries throughout the region. He has been writing at the Communities since 2009.