The Untenable Cost of the Presidency

The Untenable Cost of the Presidency
 J. Allen Tharp

By J. Allen Tharp

The recent travel scandal that led to HHS Secretary Tom Price’s resignation got me thinking about how pervasive this type of irresponsible behavior is in the government.  Sec. Price is not the exception; he is the norm in government because, as sure as the sunrise in the morning, spending someone else’s money with little accountability always leads to the mentality of easy come, easy go. Trump’s Secretary of Treasury, Steven Mnuchin, recently took his new wife on a government plane to go see the eclipse; and he requested a government plane for his honeymoon.

This mindset is why, in September 2017, the US government passed the $20 trillion national debt mark, as shown on the books. This does not count the additional $200 trillion off-the-books debt. Yet politicians keep spending as if there is no tomorrow. I’m sure this is not news to you, but the huge amount of money wasted on totally unnecessary perks should astound you.

This total disregard for the cost to taxpayers occurs at every level of government, but today I only want to focus on the cost of the presidency. Like many other pampered politicians with ready access to other people’s money, some modern US presidents now treat themselves to an extravagant lifestyle of the rich and famous that royalty would envy. Our founders never envisioned such extreme taxpayer abuse, and no rational person could see this outrageous waste of taxes as acceptable. This flagrant abuse of the system raises the question: if Congress controls the purse strings, why are they letting this happen?

To give you a quick snapshot of what has been going on, I will divide some of these more recent questionable Executive expenses into three categories: travel and vacations, general cost of business, and post-presidency. Keep in mind that the Government is broke, and my short list is just the recent tip of the wasteful spending iceberg.

Travel and vacations

Judicial Watch has had to file multiple FOIA lawsuits and engage in lengthy court battles to get basic information about the costs of presidential travel from the Secret Service. Both the Obama and the Trump administrations have been uncooperative and thrown up every roadblock they could to avoid providing the requested information. Despite the constant stonewalling, Judicial Watch found that the known total of travel expenses for former president Obama and his family was $105,662,975.27 or over $143k per day for each of Obama’s 730 days in office. They are still trying to get information on additional expenses not yet provided.

It is troubling to see such massive amounts of money paid out for trips that appear to have minimal to no value to the public interest.

  • The Obama’s annual two-week-long Christmas vacations to Hawaii were each estimated to cost $3.7 million in flight expenses alone. The Secret Service cost another $1.8 million for each of these trips.
  • Obama took two Air Force One jets to take his family sightseeing in Argentina.
  • Sometimes the Obamas would also take separate vacations. On one weekend, he flew off to play golf with his buddies in Palm Springs, while Michelle flew off to Aspen with Sasha and Malia to hit the slopes.
  • The Obama family’s Martha’s Vineyard trip cost $2,684,271.36.
  • Air Force One costs taxpayers from $150k to $228k per flight hour, so one round trip across the country can cost over $2 million.
  • On multiple occasions, the Obamas took two separate planes on the same day to fly cross-country to the same location. For example, he flew to Los Angeles on Air Force One to appear on Jimmy Kimmel Live, and the same day Michelle flew on a different plane to tape her fourth appearance on Ellen DeGeneres. 
  • Obama’s Los Angeles trip in October 2016 to appear on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” cost $195,855.
  • Obama’s November 2016 appearance at an Orlando Clinton campaign rally, Florida, cost taxpayers $271,467.71.
  • Michelle Obama’s October 2016 Clinton campaign rally appearance in North Carolina cost $26,502.
  • Michelle’s trip to Morocco cost us $244,218.01.
  • Michelle’s trip to Liberia cost $107,890.
  • Michelle’s trip to Spain cost $166,062.48.
  • In only one year, Michelle Obama spent 42 days on vacation, not counting weekends.
  • Malia Obama’s March 2012 spring break vacation to Mexico cost taxpayers at least $115,000.
  • For Obama’s pleasure trip to Africa, hundreds of Secret Service agents were needed to man security checkpoints and borders around him and his family.

Judicial Watch also requested information on Trump travel and said expenses related to President Trump’s travel have totaled $4,082,427.71, including his “Thank You Tour” last winter for $475,478 and his visits to Mar-a-Lago totaling $3.6 million. 

For eight years Democrats said nothing about Obama’s taxpayer abuse but suddenly are quite concerned about lavish Trump family travel.

Newsweek published the following list of Trump children’s trips around the world with Secret Service:

  • Eric Trump’s hotel costs in Uruguay: $97,830
  • Eric Trump’s hotel costs in the U.K.: $11,261
  • Eric Trump’s limousine services in Dublin: $4,029.85
  • Rental ski equipment and clothing for secret service during Ivanka Trump’s trip to Aspen: $12,208
  • Donald Trump Jr., Eric Trump, and Tiffany Trump’s hotel costs in Vancouver: $53,155
  • Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump’s hotel costs in Dubai: $16,738

While there is no doubt that Obama has set the all-time record for travel extravagance at taxpayer expense, it is obvious that taxpayer exposure for these lavish and unnecessary junkets must be stopped regardless of who is in office.

General expenses

According to a book by Robert Keith Gray, Americans spent more on Obama presidency than the UK spends on their royalty.

British taxpayers spent just $57.8 million on the royal family per year.

US Taxpayers spent $1.4 billion dollars per year on Obama and his family. This included staffing, housing, flying, and entertaining the Obamas. Apparently, regularly bringing in famous rappers, professional basketball players, and movie stars to entertain you on the taxpayer’s dime gets quite expensive.

Gray told The Daily Caller that the Obamas had the biggest staff in history at the highest wages ever, and an Air Force One “running with the frequency of a scheduled airline.”

Gray said, “In addition to 43 costly czars Obama appointed without Senate confirmation, he had 469 senior staffers.”  “Of these, 226 were paid more than $100k a year; and seventy-seven were paid as much as $172k per year.”

Gray reported that the first family’s dog handler was paid over $102k per year. Bo and his handler were often flown to join the president on vacation. 

Obama had a full-time movie projectionist in the White House Theater: projectionists sleep at the White House and are there 24 hours a day in case anyone needs to see a movie.

Estimated combined transportation and personnel costs for a Camp David visit are $295,000 per night.


Beleaguered taxpayers are not off the hook after presidents leave office either. The upkeep for retired former presidents has skyrocketed to ridiculous highs.

Senator Joni Ernst and Congressman Jason Chaffetz introduced legislation called the Presidential Modernization Allowance Act that would limit the pensions and office expenses that ex-presidents receive. Self-serving Obama had previously vetoed this bill, but hopefully Trump will sign it into law. While the bill should go much further, it would at least cap the annual pension payment at $200,000 per president and limit how much a former president’s office can cost. 

These pensions and benefits may have initially started as a way to ensure that ex-presidents did not wind up destitute and living on the streets, but they have morphed into something now totally unrelated to anything resembling a presidential safety net and completely unnecessary today. They have become million dollar piggy banks for egocentric ex-politicians who feel entitled to a never-ending life of Riley financed by the taxpayers. 

Adding insult to injury, many of these ex-presidents did more harm than good during their terms, with deficit spending and their lack of adherence to the Constitution. In the last 100 years, only two ex-presidents, Coolidge and Reagan, were even worthy of the office. It seems especially distasteful when a president who doubles the national debt through massive deficit spending is allowed to continue to plunder the earnings of hard-working taxpayers to fund his overly extravagant lifestyle, even after he is out of office.

More importantly, these excessive perks are an unnecessary burden on taxpayers and certainly not needed by modern-day presidential retirees. As Joni Ernst said, “Our former presidents have book deals, they have speaking engagements and they are paid quite liberally in those areas, and the American taxpayer shouldn’t be subsidizing for these personal office spaces.”

Ex-Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush will each cost more than one million dollars in pensions and office equipment in 2018 alone. There is no justification or benefit for taxpayers covering office cost after terms have expired, so how and why did these ongoing expenses become America’s problem? 

Barack and Michelle will rake in $65 million for publishing their autobiographies, and Obama has been known to charge $400k for a single speech. I think they can afford to cover their own office space nowadays.

Allen Tharp is President of the San Antonio Tea Party.

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4 Responses to "The Untenable Cost of the Presidency"

  1. Linda  October 6, 2017 at 3:25 pm

    You guys keep hitting my “Hot” topics. Keep it up. Yes they should be kept safe. but within reason. I think they should be on a budget while in office. They can pay their own office expenses afterwards. Could go on forever on the excessive spending, I won’t but would love a vacation.

  2. Don Kirchoff  October 6, 2017 at 2:31 pm

    There is no better experience for learning to use money efficiently and effectively than owning your own business or managing a profit center for a large corporation. Too bad that is not a prerequisite for public office.

  3. Tom Shumaker  October 5, 2017 at 12:04 pm

    Allen, you are absolutely right. Let’s give President Trump some credit, though, for not filling all the slots in the White House staff, especially in the First Lady’s entourage. Sets a good example. Do we mean to say that every Congressman and Senator cannot do with one less aide or staffer, though? That would be 535 fewer strap hangers if each one cut just one. And what about the agencies and departments? Just not refilling deep state seats vacated by the rats running for lobbyist jobs would save a bundle and cut the ability to write and enforce regulations. Cut taxes, cut spending, cut, cut, cut and watch us take off again!

  4. Sam Roach  October 4, 2017 at 12:18 pm

    Recent politicians, retired, should take a lesson from President Harry Truman. Go home on a train or cheapest way out of DC and quit spending money our money.

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