In a slap at President Carter for soliciting corporate funds to help pay for White House dinners, the House voted yesterday to force him to turn back unused portions of his $50,000 expense account instead of pocketing it, as he and his predecessors have done.
House members also voted to charge former president Richard M. Nixon $66,614 for the improvements at his San Clemente, Calif., home. Government benefits for Nixon would be reduced in the coming fiscal year to make up for the work, which House members said couldn't be justified on security grounds.
The Nixon amendment passed in a voice vote, despite objections that the House "is not a collection agency."
The vote on Carter's expense account was a resounding 294 to 90 in favor of the move, offered by Rep Robert Bauman (R-Md.) to a Treasury-Post Office appropriations bill that also contains funding for the White House and its offices.
Playing on the theme of Carter's Sunday night address to the nation, Bauman said passage of his amendment would "restore confidence in government."
But Appropriations subcommittee chairman Tom Steed (D-Okla." called Bauman's amendment a "cheap shot."
Bauman cited the soliciting of $5,000 from 10 corporations, including Xerox and Boeing, to pay for a White House dinner for 1,300 quests following signing of the Mideast peace treaty. He also singled out the underwriting, to the tune of $750,000, of the production and televising of a Kennedy Center gala for Chinese Premier Deng Xiaoping, by Atlantic Richfield, Coca-Cola and others.
In addition, Buaman noted news accounds saying the president had spent only $1,372 in 1977 on official White House expenses, pocketing and paying taxes on the remaining $48,628. In 1978, Carter spent $13,165 and pocketed $36,835.
Bauman said if the president needs the money that much, it's "demeaning to force him to use official expenses as salary while soliciting "private funds" to allow him to keep his expense money. The president's salary is $200,000.
Chairman Steed noted that previous presidents also pocketed the expense money and paid taxes on it. He said that when the expense account was originated in 1949, it was intended as a kind of salary boost and was tax-free with no accounting necessary. In 1951, Congress decided the president should make an accounting and pay taxes on it.
But bauman ntoed that Vice President Mondale regularly returns unused portions of his $10,000 expense account, and that a recent House change forbids members to use official expenses for personal purposes.
If the president needs a higher salary, "he should receive that salary," Bauman said.
Carter, known to be tight with a dollar, spent $12,000 of last yearhs $13,165 for staff parties and receptions. But he asked the Democratic National Committee to pay for his Christmas cards, as a political expense. That bill was $50,000.