By BREANNA EDWARDS
12/5/12 12:31 PM EST
Former presidents and first ladies of the United States would have Secret Service protection for as long as they live under a bill passed Wednesday in the House.
Passed in the House on a voice vote, the "Former President Protection Act of 2012" erases the 10-year limit of service protection previously imposed by a 1994 law, returning the statute to the original, lifelong mandate.
The previous law only granted 10 years of Secret Service protection to any former president (and first lady) elected after January 1, 1997. It did make room for exceptions, however, by allowing Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano to grant Secret Service protection to former presidents and spouses after the expired period.
But now, national security interests, as well as the mobility and youth of former presidents, led Congress to push lifelong Secret Service protection.
“I think protection, public safety [and] security [are] the foremost responsibility of government and this is a different world, even from the 1990s, when this act was last revisited in terms of the threat that high profile people face,” said the bill’s main sponsor Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.). “President Bush [and] President Obama are youthful in terms of how long we currently expect people to live. So it just struck me that when you have people that high profile, that have served the country, that it is not too much to ask that they be protected for the remainder of their life.”
Gowdy said that this act also addresses the “anomaly” of Barbara Bush receiving lifetime protection from the Secret Service herself, but her son, former president George W. Bush, only being protected for 10 years after his tenure.
Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.) who cosponsored the bill, echoed Gowdy’s words.
“It’s not a matter of saving any money,” he said. “We shouldn’t have to wait for a tragedy to occur to remove the limitation that’s there now.”
Lawmakers consulted Secret Service while proposing the bill. The agency felt that the bill was “appropriate,” in offering continued protection.
“Former presidents routinely engage in diplomatic and humanitarian activities overseas. They serve as diplomatic emissaries and require frequent overseas travel,” said a law enforcement official. “As former presidents they remain symbols of our country, as symbols they can be potential targets to those seeking to do harm.”
The bill also alters the protection of children of former presidents. Under the old statute, children were to be protected for up to 10 years after their parents’ service or when they turned 16, whichever occurred first. Under the new act, it will protect minor children until they turn 16.
The 1994 law came at a time when there 5 living former presidents. Nixon died that April and also gave up secret service protection in the 1980s. The law most likely came about because there were so many living former presidents, which has happened in the past. When Secret Service protection began for former presidents in 1965 there were only two living former presidents, Harry S. Truman and Dwight Eisenhower, Herbert Hoover died the previous year, and by a few days after Richard Nixon's second term there were no former presidents alive. So far the 1994 law only applies to George W. Bush, but it was his administration that probably had the Secret Service rethinking the 1994. The world wasn't always happy with the United States in the early years of the war on terrorism, so if the suggestion by the Secret Service that revision of the law is necessary then we should listen to them.