Obamas travels under lens as Americans tighten their belts

Written by New York Times | Chicago | Updated: May 31 2013, 08:43am hrs
Perhaps it is nothing more than an accident of timing that as federal workers brace for a summer filled with unpaid furlough days, their leaders are traveling the nation and globe on trips that exude luxury. On Wednesday, president Obama left the White House for two Chicago fund-raisers in the hope of helping Democrats retake the House in next years elections. The cost of flying aboard Air Force One to his hometown: $180,000 per hour.

The same day, Michelle Obama traveled to Massachusetts to lunch with rich donors who had paid up to $37,600 per ticket at the Taj Boston Hotel. Meanwhile, vice-president Joseph R Biden Jr. and his wife, Jill, were in Rio de Janeiro, part of a six-day swing through Latin America to discuss trade and investment, including a stop in Trinidad and Tobago.

Weve got kind of an Obama cabal in this room, the president joked during a $32,400-per-couple fund-raiser with about 70 of his friends at the home of Bettylu and Paul Saltzman, longtime supporters. He said returning to Chicago for the day was like Old Home Week.

For a leader presiding over budget cuts and a slow-moving economic recovery, there are growing political costs to presidential travel. Every move a president makes costs money, and in an era when money is in short supply, that means heightened scrutiny. Vacations are especially touchy.

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 Obama to forgo vacations to pay for resuming White House tours cut.

But officials say the vast bulk of Obamas expenses, including the $179,750-per-hour cost of Air Force One, are simply the price of the presidency and the communications and security required for a 24-hour-a-day commander in chief.

Other presidents have come under fire for vacation habits. Ronald Reagan retreated to his ranch at Santa Barbara, California, and Bush to his outside Crawford, Texas, Clinton had no home and, like Obama, favored rental estates on Marthas Vineyard.

Joe Hagin, who spent 14 years working for three Republican presidents, said, Democrats played it against president Bush, and Republicans are returning the favour. Its been going on for a long time.