As sequester hits workers, Obama's high travel costs raises eyebrows

At federal workers plan for unpaid furlough days, Obama's travel costs draws scrutiny.  Photo: Air Force One

WASHINGTON, May 30, 2013 — On Wednesday, President Obama, Michelle Obama and the Biden’s all left Washington D.C. on envious travels.

The president headed off to Chicago to attend two fund raisers to help the Democrats retake the house in November. The cost to fly Air Force One to Illinois, a two hour flight each way, is $180,000 per hour.

Michelle Obama traveled to Massachusetts to lunch with rich supporters of Senate Candidate Ed Markey at the Taj Boston Hotel, a hotel where rooms run around $350 per night. The meal consisted of Chilean sea bass with a fricassee of asparagus and cost between $500 up to $37,600 per plate.

Finally Joe and Jill Biden were in Rio de Janeiro as part of a six day Latin American tour for discussions on trade. The trip will include a stop in Trinidad and Tobago.

Everything a president does costs money, and at a time of strict budget cuts and slow economic recovery there is going to be additional questions about the necessity of the spending. Vacations and campaigning with be intensely scrutinized.

The president is asking the people to sacrifice but never himself,” Representative Chris Stewart, Republican of Utah, said when he introduced a resolution this year asking Mr. Obama to forgo vacations to pay for resuming White House tours cut because of the automatic budget cuts, known as the sequester. “We don’t have a problem with him taking vacations, but it seems petty to close the White House to tours when forgoing one or two out-of-town vacations would easily pay for the cost of keeping it open.”

Bob Dole, the former Republican senator from Kansas, was asked generally about Mr. Obama’s travels in a rare interview on “Fox News Sunday” this week. “He’s on the road too much,” Mr. Dole said.

Any president lives a life that most Americans can only dream of. He has his own staff, airplane, helicopter, chef and immense power. He vacations regularly in Hawaii and Martha’s Vineyard.

But these trips are coming at a time when federal employees are facing smaller paychecks. Last week four federal agencies started closing down as employees were told to take the first days of unpaid leave.

The Environmental Protection Agency, the Internal Revenue Service, the Department of Housing and Urban Development and even the Office of Management and Budget have all forced their employees to take unpaid days off and just today medical personnel at Walter Reed have received their furlough notices. School teachers at the Department of Defense Schools are the next group expecting notices.

Many workers are canceling vacations and working longer hours not wanting to be seen as unnecessary. Across the government, cutbacks are everywhere. Air shows are being grounded, the Army formal ball was cancelled and no tours of the White House are occurring.

Obama announced in April that he would cut his salary by $20,000 as a way to support the federal workers whose pay was also being cut.

Despite the gesture, the presidents spending is still generating scrutiny even though President Obama is not planning any trips that are not compatible to those George W. Bush and Bill Clinton went on, at this time they seem less necessary.

Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, a group that opposes tax increases, said Mr. Obama brought such criticism on himself.

“The cost of every vacation and ‘work trip’ is now compared to things he cancels ‘due to sequester,’ ” he said. “And he cannot complain as he started this ‘blame-the-sequester, there-is-nothing-to-cut’ narrative.”

White House officials say that the public understands that being president costs money. There are official obligations which he must attend and everyone deserves time off. They point out that the Republican party spend taxpayer money themselves, in particular there are overseas Congressional trips and Speaker Boehner spends time playing golf and traveling extensively for fund raising.

Aides say that the White House has cut back their spending since the sequester. Travel and hiring have been reduced and one of those who has been furloughed is the White House chef.

President Obama is not the first to come under fire for his vacations. George W. Bush took the longest single vacation, 5 weeks, of any President in 36 years. President Bush spent 32% of his presidency on vacation.

Ronald Reagan spent 436 days away from the White House on vacation usually at his ranch in California or Camp David and Bill Clinton loved to spend time with friends on Martha’s Vineyard or The Hamptons.

“It’s just a routine part of the Washington gotcha game,” said Joe Hagin, who spent 14 years in the White House working for three Republican presidents, most recently as Mr. Bush’s deputy chief of staff. “Democrats played it against President Bush, and Republicans are returning the favor. It’s been going on for a long time.”



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Susan L Ruth

Susan L. Ruth is a long-time Washington, DC resident with extensive ties throughout the community.  She is a genealogical researcher and writer, and is an active volunteer in the Northern Virginia competitive swimming community.  Susan previously worked providing life-skills to head injured adults. 

Susan and her husband Kerry currently live in Northern Virginia with their three sons, Ryley, Casey and Jack and their American Bulldog, Leila.


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