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Obama’s India Trip Costing $ 200 Million A Day? Don’t Believe It


Somehow, the idea that President Obama’s upcoming visits to India and Indonesia would end up costing $ 200,000,000 per day has made it’s way into the conservative pundit-ocracy’s zeitgeist, as this report from Fox Business Channel shows:

The charge was repeated last night on CNN by Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann, who refused to provide any evidence to support the claim when pressed by Anderson Cooper:

The figure seems to have come from a post on an Indian web site where the figure is said to be based on supposed conversations with an Indian government official. As Factcheck.org points out, though, the figure makes absolutely no sense:

This story has spread rapidly among the president’s critics, but there is simply no evidence to support it. And common sense should lead anyone to doubt it. For example, the entire U.S. war effort in Afghanistan currently costs less than that — about $5.7 billion per month, according to the Congressional Research Service, or roughly $190 million per day. How could a peaceful state visit cost more than a war?

What else can you get for $200 million? Try the New Jersey Nets basketball team or possibly the Hope diamond — if only the Smithsonian were selling it.

The hard-to-swallow claim originated with a Nov. 2 Press Trust of India article quoting an unnamed “top official” in the government of Maharashtra (one of India’s states). The source was quoted as saying that Obama’s upcoming trip to Mumbai will cost $200 million per day for security and living arrangements, among other things. The story claimed that the president would be accompanied by about 3,000 people, including Secret Service agents, government officials and journalists, and will stay at the Taj Mahal Hotel — the scene of a 2008 terrorist attack.

The White House is always reluctant to discuss cost figures about presidential trips, since the bulk of the expense is for Secret Service security. Not this time. The White House press office, which said it had been flooded with queries, gave us the following statement:

Matt Lehrich, White House Office of Media Affairs:

The numbers reported in this article have no basis in reality. Due to security concerns, we are unable to outline details associated with security procedures and costs, but it’s safe to say these numbers are wildly inflated.

It is always costly to move a U.S. president around the world. And in this case, the president is attending a G-20 meeting and will be accompanied by several cabinet officials. But given the dubious source of this assertion, the fact that the claimed cost exceeds the cost of a war, the flat denial by the White House and the lack of any evidence to support the claim, we’ll classify this one as false.

Yea I think that’s a safe bet.

Update: Another claim that’s been made about this trip is that Obama will be accompanied by an armada of 34 warships, Stars and Stripes debunks that claim today:

Rumors are running rampant about President Barack Obama’s upcoming trip to India, including one that he has dispatched a flotilla of 34 warships, including an aircraft carrier, to provide security while he is in Mumbai starting on Saturday.

“The measure has been taken as Mumbai attack in 2008 took place from the sea,” according to a story by Press Trust of India, which did not indicate where this information came from. Nevertheless, it was the lead story on the Drudge Report on Thursday morning.

Even Teddy Roosevelt, who sent The Great White Fleet around the world, might find sending that many warships a tad excessive, so The Rumor Doctor decided to delve into the matter.

Sure enough, there are not 34 ships – and there isn’t an aircraft carrier – supporting the president’s trip, said a defense official, who declined to provide any information on security measures for presidential trips.

But the news editor for Press Trust of India said they stand by their story.

“Foreign media always exaggerate about presidential trips,” Gordon Johndroe, former deputy White House spokesman under President George W. Bush, said in an e-mail.. “I am positive there will not be ’34 warships’ involved in this trip.”

So, there goes that story.

Update: Glenn Reynolds shares a note from a reader whom he says makes a “good point”:

I am watching Anderson Cooper and CNN’s criticism of some, including Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh, who reported that Obama’s upcoming trip to India was using 34 warships and costing $200 million per day.

Hard to believe on the face of it and many people certainly jumped the gun in reporting it and criticizing the President for it.

Sloppy reportage perhaps, but essentially the story had legs because it was believable, given the way the man spends other people’s money and MIchelle Obama’s expensive summer trip.

If someone reported that Charlie Sheen had been found, passed out, in a hotel room with 18 hookers, you may doubt the story, but hey, that darn Charlie, what a wild man.

Obama has a bit of a reputation too, although along different lines.

No, sorry that dog don’t hunt.

The only reason this reader finds this story believable, and the only reason that people like Glenn Beck, Rush Limbuagh, and Michelle Bachmann repeated the story without bothering to discover the truth (and without pausing for a moment to consider just how illogical it was) is because it was about Barack Obama, who they despise.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Bernieyeball says:

    Whaat!
    The Radio and TV gas bags are not being truthful?
    Say it isn’t so!
    Who are we to believe?

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  2. Brian Knapp says:

    200,000,000 Rupees maybe?? Even $4.5 mil USD/day sounds high.

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  3. sam says:

    Ah, well, Michelle Bachmann – Moron in Chief of the TP Caucus. Maybe she thinks he’s taking the entire 101st Airborne with him when he flys to India.

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  4. When Bill Clinton did an Asia trip like this in the late 90s it cost $ 50,000,000 in total.

    Anyone with half a brain should realize that the $ 200,000,000 per day claim is false.

    Then again, we’re talking about Bachmann

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  5. JKB says:

    I’ve seen the number supposedly justified because a carrier and 34 naval ships are accompanying him. Other than suppositions about patrolling the coast since that is where the terrorists came from I’ve not been amused enough to find out why the armada is going to the area.

    Even so, I think that number would get chopped down quite a bit if you only considered the variable costs of the ships due to the specific deployment and left off all the cost that would incur if they were just operating as they normally do.

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  6. JKB,

    The “34 warships” claim has been debunked by Stars & Stripes:

    http://www.stripes.com/blogs/the-rumor-doctor/the-rumor-doctor-1.104348/will-34-warships-accompany-obama-to-india-1.124293

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  7. just me says:

    I think this is born from the desire to play gotcha and in times of recession these kinds of stories probably get more traction even if they are false.

    One problem with the internet is that it is a source for a lot of really good information, but it is also the source for a lot of bad information-and even some reputable organizations will sometimes see something and use it without vetting it and then it becomes fact.

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  8. Drew says:

    I completely agree that the $200MM per day figure is preposterous on its face. But strangely missing from the post and comments is an estimate of the real estimated costs, warships whatever.

    This seems to have been an opportunistic feeding frenzy at the expense of the hyperbolic, (the very thing one commentor criticized) without an actual sober assessment. So what is the cost; is it in line with norms for moving a head of state about, etc? Lot’s of clucking, not many facts……….

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  9. Yeggo says:

    There goes that story? Wishful thinking…

    When people REALLY want to believe something, no amount of countervailing evidence will satisfy them.

    http://bit.ly/bMBrJS

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  10. JKB says:

    Well, it’s good to know we aren’t sending a fleet. I always just supposed someone latched on to a normal fleet movement that was coincidently timed. But it turns out it is not even that.

    And those going on TV to spout the cost, should have applied a believability filter that would have told them to verify the numbers.

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  11. sam says:

    They will not release the actual costs, for security reasons they say. However, we can guesstimate:

    Back in 1999, the General Accounting Office did a study of a 10-day trip to Africa by President Bill Clinton. The report found that the total cost for the trip was $42 million.

    That figure did not take into account the airplanes, helicopters and support personnel who accompany the president, however. (The personnel would presumably be paid whether or not a trip took place.) The operating cost of Air Force One is over $100,000 per hour, and a ten-hour flight from DC to Mumbai would thus tack on a million dollars to a trip’s cost.
    http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-503544_162-20021841-503544.html

    I’ll guess that a comparable trip today for 10 days would be $50 million. So, let’s say when the President goes overseas, the cost is $5 million per day – 4-day trip, $20 million dollars.

    That sound right anybody? Too high, too low?

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  12. MarkedMan says:

    The real problem with this type of story is not what Michele Bachman said. After all, if Congress could be likened to professional wrestling she falls into that sort of pathetic category of people who actually believe it is real. In fact, Michele Bachman is even worse than that, because she’s one of the wrestlers, and still somehow believes it’s real.

    No, the sad part here is that there is no one on her side of the aisle that would have the decency to smack down this rumor. So the nutcases like her and Rush and Beck perpetrate this, and there are no trusted adults to put things into perspective.

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  13. mannning says:

    There is a lot of wishful thinking going into that $200M/day, but it is incontrovertable that the trip will be enormously expensive. The standard early arrival package carrying a huge load of communications gear, autos, technicians, and security moguls uses on the order of three or four C-17 aircraft, depending upon the number of personnel, helicopters and ground transport vehicles to be carried ; the presidential flight is normally composed of two Air Force I- 747 airdraft, the primary and a backup; and it would not be unusual for a squadron of F-15s or FA-18s to find their way to a nearby airport to run patrols and escort into and out of the area, plus a refueling tanker or two. It is also normal for satellite surveillance of the area to be increased, even unto maneuvering a spy satellite to give better coverage, which is a considerable indirect cost. Today, however, it might be a Global Hawk mission to cover the area instead of moving a spy sat.. Along the carefully-planned flight path of the president, there may well be fighter escort arranged out of US bases or carriers, with tanker aircraft used to extend their range, and AWACS missions also covering some of the volume of space being flown at the far end.

    I have never seen a full account of the total package, with all of these “secondary or indirect costs” added in, but a figure of $100M to $150M, all in, would not be far off, I would think. Renting the entire Taj for10 days would be rather costly also, and the food and entertainment budget would not be small, either. (So much for transparency of government!)

    It makes me wonder whether the $200M figure was meant to be the budget for the entire trip, not per day.

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  14. Me says:

    If it is true, the cost of keeping 36 navy ships in the area to evacuate/protect the president has to exceed $200,000,000 by itself.

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  15. sam says:

    Manning you see my post upthread? Based on the cost of Clinton’s 10-day trip to Africa in 1999 at $42 million, and factoring for inflation, I came up with a figure of $5 million per day. Read my post and see if you agree.

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  16. just me says:

    Honestly these kinds of trips don’t push my buttons anyway. I think part of being the president is visiting other countries and making nice with the leaders there.

    I also get why some aspects of those trips are going to be expensive.

    That doesn’t mean that we should spend like the bank account has not bottom, but some things are just going to cost money and it is going to come with the territory.

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  17. wr says:

    I think this was a test by Fox News to come up with the dumbest thing they could think of and see if the Teatards would believe it. So far, it looks like that’s a big yet. Tomorrow, no doubt, they’ll put out a story claiming Obama is a space alien. And Michelle Bachman will call for hearings.

    And Zels will demand impeachment.

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  18. Herb says:

    “There is a lot of wishful thinking going into that $200M/day, but it is incontrovertable that the trip will be enormously expensive. ”

    I think we can afford to send the President to India. We’re not some backwater country and India isn’t either. And it’s a G20 meeting? Get over it, people.

    Yeah, I can see why people are lying to make this an issue. The truth elicits a big, “So???”

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  19. Steve Verdon says:

    200,000,000 Rupees maybe?? Even $4.5 mil USD/day sounds high.

    Well, if you count every single bit of money being spent like salaries…that might make it. Then again, these people will likely have been paid anyways, so it isn’t like this is an “extra cost” or something–that is, it is still a load of Bravo Sierra. After all, we don’t expect the Secret Service agents or the crew of Air Force 1 to become unemployed if the trip were suddenly cancelled.

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  20. Rookie says:

    Why aren’t these trips ever viewed in terms of an investment? Surely a state visit to make nice with a key ally and developing economy is worth $40 or $50 million.

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  21. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    Doug, when you dispute something, you need to subsititute other figures for the ones you dispute. Just saying it does not cost that much means nothing. As a far left advocate that you are, you seem to think it is sufficient to say it is false without some other figure. What do you suppose it costs to send 3000 people to stay at the best possible places in India per day? WR STFU you idiot.

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  22. Drew says:

    wr -

    Was it 1, or 2 fifths today?

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  23. wr says:

    And right on cue, Zels is here insisting this is true, because no one can prove it false.

    And then Drew says something incoherent.

    Election or no, nothing really changes.

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  24. Slartibartfast says:

    I think sam’s noticed the same things I have. It’s not going to be substantially more expensive than any of Clinton’s travels, is a good guideline.

    Figuring out just how much money this is costing the US taxpayer, though, is the hard part. $5mil a day is probably a decent ROM estimate.

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  25. mpw280 says:

    If we all were to believe sams figures, or not, we would have to compare the Clinton retinue vs the typical Obama retinue, which sam doesn’t introduce in his estimate. When Madame Michelle went to Spain she probably had more people involved than Clinton did on his trip. While Obama will likely empty DC for this trip, think of all those soon to be out of work Sen’s and Rep’s. Talk of 30-40 jets, and 3000 people involved, that isn’t cheap. Cutting this in half is believable and well beyond 4-5 mil a day. Whole hotels, hosts of security in a city hit by a big terrorist attack not long ago, security is going to be unreal and very expensive, even by DC standards. Talk of a carrier group for support aircraft and navy labor for security, a carrier group is 9-18 ships depending on what it is doing, this can’t be cheap per day. You really have to ask why? Why go to a city that was hit by an unholy terrorist attack not long ago. What is the upside to the US, has Obama been courting India? Have we been selling them arms? Are we trying to take their closeness from Russia? I haven’t seen anything to indicate that we are on the cusp of a new India/US closeness, especially considering our continuing work with Pakistan and trying to increase their anti-terror activities. So for all the money that will get spent, the risk to a sitting president, and all the work that will be done is for what? Why should we spend 10-50 mil a day for a holiday jaunt so Obama can play a few rounds in India? Whatever, it isn’t his money, he will just have Timmy spin some more out of the magic money machine for our grandchildren to pay off. mpw

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  26. Alex Knapp says:

    Everything that needs to be said about this “allegation” can be summed up nicely here:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p7w64fbqYQY

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  27. mannning says:

    @Sam

    The Clinton trip was a long time ago in world events, and at least I can believe that Mr. Obama or his advisors just might be a tad more sensitive today to the threats that seem to abound. I think it is rather characteristic of Obama to do things upscale–because he can, for the nonce. Then, too, the dollar today doesn’t buy as much, perhaps by about 25% less.

    But, more importantly, we do not have the full breakdown of either Clinton’s trip (much less the hidden or indirect costs coming out of various Departments in support); or the plans for Obama’s trip, so a somewhat dubious figure for Mr. Clinton’s trip that cannot be verified nor even be given a reality check, cannot reasonably be matched up with the unpublished plans of Obama. I, for one, believe that a highly significant hide the cost game is played for these trips, especially for the above mentioned hidden or indirect costs, but I obviously cannot prove the point here.

    The military, in particular, is quite adept at ordering missions for “training” or “Joint operational familiarity” with some nations that just happen by coincidence to be near the presidential entourage and fligh path a good part of the time in key areas. It is easily conceivable that an aircraft carrier and its escort or six or seven ships and a sub or two might be transiting the area on the way to relieving a similar force in the Mid East or elsewhere; the timing and actual path, of course, being entirely coincidental, and close held for several obvious reasons.

    The cost of these missions would not be assumed under the budget for the Presidential trip, and their presence might well be disturbing to the host nation if officially known and announced. This holds also for intelligence gathering efforts, such as maintaining a Global Hawk over the areas of concern, or flying U2/TR-1 missions in support, or doing something with satellites, all of which dump massive data down for analysts to work on 24/7 in direct support of the presidential trip, and all of this not in the trip budget, of course. Such missions are not cheap.We do have more and better intel gadgets now than supported Clinton’s trip.

    But then, perhaps my seven years at the Pentagon in the C4I world, and eight years in intel systems work, puts me in a highly biased frame of mind…

    Bottom line: We will never know the whole story, even in Clinton’s case!

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  28. G.A.Phillips says:

    What does it matter how much it costs? Dint they just print like 600billion? We got plenty of ink and paper. Maybe he would like to take some friends to the space station. Take the whole fleet of space shuttles. Party man party!!!!!! woo hooo!!!!!

    Heck why only 3,000 friends, take them all with you:…..

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  29. G.A.Phillips says:

    http://www.usdebtclock.org/

    woo hoo party party party!!!!!!

    pretty soon the mint printer clocks will look like this…….

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  30. AllenS says:

    Go ahead, Mr. Mataconis, tell us what it will cost per day. Please include where you’re getting your information. The White House? Sure. They seem to be able to tell you anything and you never question them, you just accept their figures as fact. I’d be willing to bet, that what Ms. Bachmann says would be a closer figure that what you come up with.

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  31. jwest says:

    Palin Spent $150,000 on Clothes? Don’t Believe It
    http://belowthebeltway.com/2008/11/05/the-odd-relationship-between-sarah-palin-and-john-mccain/

    If that analytical mind had worked as well back then, perhaps you would have been questioning Newsweek too.
    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/19/fashion/19stylist.html

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  32. sam says:

    “The only reason this reader finds this story believable, and the only reason that people like Glenn Beck, Rush Limbuagh, and Michelle Bachmann [and JKB, AllenS, jwest, Zelsfdorf, mpw280, assorted Loony Tunes characters, Fox and Friends (might be redundant given the last)] repeated the story without bothering to discover the truth (and without pausing for a moment to consider just how illogical it was) is because it was about Barack Obama, who they despise.”

    Game, set, match; Olympic Gold Medal; World Cup; Bingo!

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  33. matt says:

    Manning is on a roll in this thread..

    I tend to lean towards the 200million is the total cost camp. 200 million a day is near the amount we’re spending on the war in Afghanistan which requires an enormous amount of logistics for fuel alone…

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  34. wr says:

    Matt — Why assume this figure comes from anywhere but someone’s ass? Why assume there’s any truth to it at all? There’s no legitimate sourcing, just ranting from right wing hacks.

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  35. matt says:

    Cause we’re all assuming right now?

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  36. Wayne says:

    Matt the the left can assume anything they want. The right can’t even if they have some data backing up their estimates.

    I for one would like to see some cost comparisons between the Presidents. It wouldn’t be hard to rack up the cost with extravagant spending like building tunnels and high price accommodations like renting 25 to 37 thousand dollars a night hotel rooms for many of those 3000 people.

    http://www.dnaindia.com/mumbai/report_tunnel-for-obama-near-mani-bhavan_1461946

    I can’t say that is what happening but someone can’t say it isn’t either. Why not find out?

    Also saying a White House spokesman says it not costing that much is not proof that it not costing a good deal more than usual. It could only be $175 million and not $200 million. Technically they wouldn’t be lying. It would be nice to know.

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  37. mannning says:

    Once more for the hell of it: we will never be able to rack up the true total costs of either trip: Clinton’s or Obama’s for the simple reason that the government does not account for all the costs correctly, and a goodly portion of the costs are hidden under classified programs or operational missions. Thus going any further here is a useless effort. So pick your number!
    Then double it!

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  38. Wayne says:

    Manning, you are correct that it would be difficult if not impossible to calculate the “true” total cost. However cost for hotel, food, drinks, entertainment, number of guest taken, etc can be Ball Park calculated and compared to prior administrations.

    The need to take 3000 people brings concern to many. Is this typical and\or needed? Is there any concern of the possibility of a politicians taking let’s say 1000 top donors an expensive taxpayers paid trip? Are people spending extravagantly on things like $10,000 bottles of wine? I am not saying this is happening but I would like to know for sure. Unfortunately people want to make judgments and\or political hay without allowing the facts to come in. Unfortunately we won’t get any facts without political pressure.

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  39. Robert says:

    How much is this trip costing tax payers .Where is Anderson Coopers proof on how much it is going to cost us . where is his proof on how many planes how many are going how many ships helicopters etc .He has got a big mouth but he has no proof.
    I Think now the cats out of the bag its still going to cost us plenty and do little except be
    thrills for the many that are going. While america suffers for it.
    At least now it just may not cost the two billion it may have.

    I think obama hates America and wants it changed and will even be willing to bank rupt it , to do it.

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  40. An Interested Party says:

    “I think obama hates America and wants it changed and will even be willing to bank rupt it , to do it.”

    Impeach!

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  41. matt says:

    wayne : You’re assuming just as much as the rest of us…

    What I find amusing is that everyone is skipping Bush’s presidency and going to Clinton as a comparison. Just because they have a D next to their name doesn’t mean they will travel the same (same goes for Rs). Probably most of the costs are dictated by non partisan positions…

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  42. mannning says:

    @ Wayne

    You are on target with your questioning the number of people going to the Mumbai Foillies.from the US. I cannot understand what 3,000 so-called experts can do together or separately in a ten day period that would hold up under real examination and be approved at the top levels. It has all the signs of the old boondoggle and payoff to supporters for efforts and contributions over the past two years. In fact, I don’t understand how more than about 30 real experts or power people could do much leading to wide agreement.

    So the only thing I can think is that Obama will have his 30 experts and power people in case they are needed, and 2,970 security, techies, journalists, and a lot of partyboys in or out of government having a blowout far away from home…This does not sit well with me when the same guy wants to raise my taxes a bunch to help pay for his convocations in Asia, and one night stands in New York City, etc, and campaign trips all over the nation.with the very same logistics train involved.
    Added up, the sum total of Obama trip costs over two years just might meet the billion dollar level.

    What have we received for this lavish travel expense?

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  43. anjin-san says:

    If only all the tea party types could put their heads together and come up with 200 million brain cells…

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  44. anjin-san says:

    > I can’t say that is what happening but someone can’t say it isn’t either.

    And here we have the basis for the entire right wing world view.

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  45. [...] does it cost? Prove it's wrong with facts, I brought the news article, you are bringing spin Obama’s India Trip Costing $ 200 Million A Day? Don’t Believe It Reply With Quote + Reply to [...]

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  46. dbb1031 says:

    The whitehouse refuses to release the cost to this is what we have to go with.

    200,000,000 / 3000 = 66k a day that is very possible.

    Even if it is 1/2 as much say 100,000,000 is that a good thing ?

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