Diagnosis for Democracy
Insights into the State of Our Union
A Blog by Rob Tenery, MD


Should Our President 'Tighten His Belt'?

By Rob Tenery, MD on May 9, 2016

The median household income, adjusted for inflation in November 2015, was $56,746. It cost $206,000 to operate Air Force One for just one hour. This contrast should raise questions as to whether the high costs funded by the taxpayers for the President, his family and his staff are justified.

Former President Ronald Reagan’s wife, Nancy, defended her husband’s frequent trips to their California ranch while in office by pointing out that, “Presidents don’t get vacations--- they just get a change of scenery.”  She was implying that whether on vacation, fulfilling obligations away from the White House or on the campaign trail, the President is always ‘on the job.’ That argument aside, there must be some accountability to the taxpayers since they are ultimately responsible for paying for the majority of these costs.

Presidents are responsible to pay for their own and their families’ lodging, food and incidentals while on vacation. They also pay for their travel expenses but only at the rates charged by the commercial airlines.1 That is why many stay at properties they own or the Presidential retreat at Camp David. Since at least some of the vacation time is devoted to doing the President’s work, lodging and meals for the approximately 200 people that accompany the President on vacation are also added to the taxpayers’ bill.1

Robert Keith Gray, in his book, Presidential Perks Gone Royal, writes that taxpayers spent $1.4 billion on President Obama and his family on 2011. The long-time Republican and member of the Reagan White House went on to breakdown the expenses of staffing, housing, flying and entertaining.  He compared this to the $57.8 million that the British taxpayers spent on the royal family.2   

Even though Grey’s Republican Party bias is apparent, some of his points are well taken. A frequently quoted example used in pointing out excessive spending by Obama and his family is their trip this past December to Hawaii for two weeks: In addition to Air Force One, there was the Air Force cargo plane for Obama’s helicopter and limousines that cost the taxpayers another $150,000 to go to Hawaii and back. Another airplane was used to fly in the Marine Corps contingent at a similar cost. There were the estimated costs of $275,000 for the Honolulu Police Department and $15,80 for the local Emergency Management Services for overtime pay and be on call in case any emergency ensued.  Flying-time alone, cost the taxpayers in the range of $3.5 million.3

Bradley Patterson, in his respected book, To Serve the President, estimates that Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush, incurred costs to the taxpayers in 2008 that were about $1.6 billion, with about half of that number, or more than $800 million, coming from the Secret Service budget.4

According to CBS News, White House correspondent, Mark Knoller, in their eight -year terms, George W. Bush took 533 days of vacation, Bill Clinton took 174 days and Reagan took 349 days. Through his Christmas vacation to Hawaii, Knoller reports that Obama has logged 177 days during his 23 vacations. That does not include trips by the First Family without the President and the costs incurred for transportation and security that are mostly paid for by the taxpayers.

Although critics point out that Obama has appointed 34 czars as part of his staff, the most criticism has been about the excessive size of Michelle Obama’s staff, compared to the previous First Ladies. In 2009, Katie Lelyveld, Michelle Obama’s press secretary claimed the First Lady’s staff consisted of 24 employees. Contrasting these numbers to former First Lady, Laura Bush, who had 15 staffers, plus three more in the Office of the White House Social Secretary, the differences don’t seem all that excessive.5

The President and his family have been broadly panned for their lavish spending at the taxpayers’ expense. Compared to his predecessor, George W. Bush, and his family, that criticism seems unfounded. This is not to say there are not and have not been excesses in spending by Obama and some of the other previous Presidents. The travel demands and the growing need for security, in an increasingly dangerous world, have raised the costs of transportation and protection exponentially.

However, after a closer look, there are abuses in spending by whomever occupies the Oval Office that seem endemic from one administration to another. Those are mainly concerned with the travel and security costs that are incurred anytime the President or any member of the First Family leaves the confines of the White House.

Taxpayer responsibility for transportation and security costs seem inappropriate, when the President’s purpose is for fundraising and campaigning. These activities are hidden from the general public in the veil of work activities. Two recent examples are Obama’s trip to California in June that included a speech to the U.S. Conference of Mayors in San Francisco as well as a golf outing in Palm Springs. One can only guess how many fundraising events the President was able to squeeze in while he was there. It is also very unlikely that any of the money the President raised while in California went to offset the costs of his journey.

A Judicial Watch report is very enlightening as to how the Obamas have used their position and the taxpayer’s monies to further their fundraising efforts and travel experiences. Under the Freedom of Information Act, Judicial Watch has submitted requests and filed lawsuits attempting to make public the nature and costs of First Family’s trips and ultimate cost to the taxpayers. At the time of the release of this report, the U.S. Secret Service has not responded to 19 Judicial Watch requests. One can only surmise as to the reason for foot-dragging by the Secret Service on the so-far unreleased requests. Listed below are examples Judicial Watch has been able to collect so far:

·      President Obama’s 2015 golf and family vacation trips cost taxpayers $3, 115,688 in travel expenses alone.

·      Obama attending political fundraisers in Los Angeles and San Francisco cost $1.76 million in transportation expenses.

·      July 2014 fundraising trips to Denver and New York City by Obama cost $1.6 million in flight expenses.

·      President Obama’s June 2013 trip to Belfast, Ireland, including a Dublin sightseeing side trip by Michelle Obama, her daughters and her entourage, cost taxpayers almost $ 8 million.

·      The Obama’s ‘date night’ in May, 2009 cost taxpayers $11,648 in security costs alone.

·      President Obama incurred almost $7.4 million in flight expenses for his 2013 vacations to Hawaii, Martha’s Vineyard and California to appear on the Jay Leno Show.6
 

The median family income, adjusted for inflation, has decreased slightly under President Obama’s seven plus years in office. During that same time period, the Obama family has spent at least $70.5 million of the taxpayers’ money on personal and largely personal vacations. Many more millions have been spent at the taxpayer’s expense to raise money for the President's own use and the Democratic Party.  Obama is not alone. Republican Presidents are also to blame.

The popularity of Donald Trump, and the very surprising support for socialist Bernie Sanders, demonstrate the public’s loss in trust for what comes out of Washington. They are demanding change, and it’s not just with the Congress. The next inhabitant of the Oval Office needs to do some ‘belt tightening’, while loosening the ‘noose around the neck’ of the consumers and small businesses!

References:

1.     https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/five-myths-about-president…ations/2014/08/15/2aa969c6-2311-11e4-958c-268a320a60ce_story.html

2.     http://dailycaller.com/2012/09/26/taxpayers-spent-1-4-billion-on-obama-family-last-year-perks-questioned-in-new-book/

3.     http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3361183/Obamas-treat-Air-For…ng-watchdog-president-s-Christmas-Hawaii-trip-expensive-justify.html

4.     https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/fact-checker/post/bachmanns-…idency/2013/03/17/bb5f3ea2-8f40-11e2-bdea-e32ad90da239_blog.html

5.     http://usgovinfo.about.com/od/thepresidentandcabinet/a/Michelle-Obama-Staff-Size-Salaries.htm

6.     http://www.judicialwatchorg/obamas-vacations/
 





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