American Elephants

Some of the Costs and Perks of the Presidency by The Elephant's Child

A new book Presidential Perks Gone Royal by Robert Keith Gray, points out that American taxpayers spent $1.4 billion on everything from staffing, housing, flying and entertaining President Obama and his family last year. In comparison, British taxpayers spent just $57.8 million on the royal family.

Obama is not the first president to take advantage of the expensive trappings of his office, but the amount spent on the first family, Gray argues, has risen tremendously under the Obama administration and needs to be reined in.

The $1.4 billion is the total cost of the presidency, factoring in the cost of the biggest staff in history at the highest wages ever, a 50 percent increase in the numbers of appointed czars, and an Air Force One “running with the frequency of a scheduled airline.” When a trip on Air Force One is deemed political, it is customary for the president to pay the equivalent of a first class commercial ticker for certain passengers, but that hardly covers the taxpayer’s cost of flying the president and his staffers around on campaign trips.

Gray argues in his book that Americans want their president to be safe and comfortable, but argues the system should be reformed. Aside from his salary, the president gets a $50,000 a year expense account, a $100,000 travel account, a $19,000 entertainment budget and an additional million for “unanticipated needs.”

The president has 469 senior staffers, and 226 are paid more than $100,000 a year. Seventy-seven are paid as much as $172,000. He has also appointed 43 czars.  All are appointed without Senate confirmation.

He can vacation for free at Camp David. Each round trip made to Camp David costs the taxpayers $25,350. It is estimated that the combined transportation and personnel costs for a Camp David visit are $295,000 per night.

The president has a full-time movie projectionist in the White House theater. The projectionists sleep at the White House so they can be on call 24 hours a day . The president’s family gets travel and security expenses paid while vacationing. Michelle Obama drew some flack from the media when it was disclosed that, not counting weekends, she spent 42 days on vacation in the span of one year.

Bo has his own highly paid staffer at $102,000 last year, and roused some criticism when he got a separate flight to join the president on vacation in Maine.

Up until 1958, the federal government provided no pension or other retirement benefits for former U.S. presidents. In 1955, former President Harry s. Truman’s limited financial resources for an office staff prompted legislation to provide benefits to former presidents. President Eisenhower was the first to fall under the Act.

By law, former presidents are entitled to a pension, staff and office expenses, medical care or health insurance, and Secret Service protection. The pension begins immediately after a president’s departure from office. Bill Clinton will have lifetime Secret Service protection, but George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and following presidents will have it for only ten years.

There is a presidential townhouse reserved for former presidents when they come to Washington. What happens when several former presidents turn up all at once is not clear.


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