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The Presidency Costs Taxpayers A Lot, But That’s Not Obama’s Fault

Today’s outrage of the day is apparently the fact that the total cost of  running the White House under the Obama Administration reached $1.4 billion:

Taxpayers spent $1.4 billion dollars on everything from staffing, housing, flying and entertaining President Obama and hisfamily last year, according to the author of a new book on taxpayer-funded presidential perks.

In comparison, British taxpayers spent just $57.8 million on the royal family.

Author Robert Keith Gray writes in “Presidential Perks Gone Royal” that Obama isn’t the only president to have taken advantage of the expensive trappings of his office. But the amount of money spent on the first family, he argues, has risen tremendously under the Obama administration and needs to be reined in.

Gray told The Daily Caller that the $1.4 billion spent on the Obama family last year is the “total cost of the presidency,” factoring 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 air line.”

Gray doesn’t say where he came up with this number, but one presumes it comes from the Federal Budget. It’s a lot of money, of course, and it’s caused no small degree of outrage on conservative blogs. There’s just one problem, Gray’s assertion that costs associated with the Presidency have “tremendously” increased since Obama took office simply isn’t true.

To establish that, we need only look at a paper produced by the Brookings Institution’s Bradley Patterson [PDF] in which, in one chapter, he lays out the question of what it costs to run the White House. The first point Patterson notes is that this isn’t an easy question to answer:

What are the annual dollar costs, for a typical year, of operating the modern presidency—of running the White House, the whole White House? One of the reasons that question has never been answered (and perhaps never even asked) is because the pathway to the answer is so complicated. One may start with the tab “White House Office” in the annual congressional budget submission of the Executive Office of the President, but that is only an initial fraction. In addition, twenty-two other budget accounts, thirteen of them in other departments, or parts of departments, pay the expenses, and the salaries, of men and women who are in fact members of the White House staff family. Not only are those costs scattered through those twenty-two other budgets, but in at least nine of them the dollars are not in any fashion identified as White House. Realistic estimates have to be made

Patterson attempted to do that for the Fiscal Year 2008 budget and came up with a figure of $1,592,875,254. This does not include classified outlays for things such as Air Force One. One assumes that the figured that Gray came up with also omits these classified figures. The first thing that jumps out, of course, is that the cost that Patterson came up with for Fiscal Year 2008, when Bush was President, is more than the figure that Gray provides. Since we don’t know exactly how Gray calculated his figures, we can’t say that this ends the debate since he could have left off items that Patterson included, which would be odd since he seems to have started out with the assumption that the President dramatically increased the cost of the Presidency. Nonetheless, it seems rather obvious from comparing these two figures that the assertion that the costs to the taxpayer associated with the Presidency have increased “tremendously” under President Obama are, quite simply, wrong.

There is, perhaps, a decent argument to be made that our Presidents live in far too much luxury, and far too much of a pampered bubble of privilege. Things have been that way, however, for many decades now both because of the manner in which the increase in the power of the Presidency has lent the office a more regal air and because of the security bubble that has enveloped the Presidency and anyone associated in the wake of the Kennedy Assassination and the various assassination attempts that have taken place since then. These are legitimate issues worthy of discussion, but trying to frame this in a partisan manner simply doesn’t conform to the facts. We spend a lot of money on the Presidency, we have been doing that for quite a long time, and there’s no evidence at all that this is a phenomenon unique to the Obama Administration.

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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. Ed in NJ says:

    The cupboard is pretty bare for the Republicans. They really have nothing to run on, so a series of faux scandals is all they have left. It goes right alongside the “Obamaphones” as a last-ditch lie (these phones are provided by the telecoms and have been in place for 10 years) to try to perpetuate the racist meme of lazy blacks living off the government.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 31 Thumb down 36

  2. PJ says:

    Over at LGF there’s an list identifying the cost of the Bush White House in 2008.

    The total cost was $1.6 billion, $1.7 billion when adjusted for inflation.

    In reality the outraged right wingers should praise Obama for cutting costs. $300 million less, that’s 18%….

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 27 Thumb down 21

  3. al-Ameda says:

    We (collectively) piss and moan about this bulls*** all the time. It’s the cost of the modern presidency – we need to get over it.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 14 Thumb down 28

  4. dennis says:

    @al-Ameda:

    I’ve never heard that complaint until today, al-. Like I said in a previous post some months ago; I’ll be glad when we get ye ol’ White hand back in the WH, just so as not to listen to anymore of THIS BS.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 19 Thumb down 11

  5. Ron Beasley says:

    @PJ: It’s all those brush clearing trips to TX.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 11

  6. Tillman says:

    Taxpayers spent $1.4 billion dollars on everything from staffing, housing, flying and entertaining President Obama and his family last year, according to the author of a new book on taxpayer-funded presidential perks.

    In comparison, British taxpayers spent just $57.8 million on the royal family.

    The Royal Family also does less than the presidency in terms of governing.

    I wonder if his figure includes the cost of private schooling for the Presidential kids. I’d wager British taxpayers pay for the education of the Royal Children.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 15 Thumb down 9

  7. 11B40 says:

    Greetings:

    What about moving mommie-in-law into the White House ??? Whose fault was that ???

    “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Chairman you know who said that.

    Poorly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 50

  8. Anderson says:

    The Windsors are also fab rich.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 5

  9. MM says:

    @11B40: I have no idea what that even means. Freeper slang doesn’t play well outside the bubble.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 0

  10. An Interested Party says:

    What about moving mommie-in-law into the White House ??? Whose fault was that ???

    If you really think that her presence in the White House is costing taxpayers substantially and if you are really trying to use that quote to make a Mao/communist link, you’re even more deranged than you appear…you supposedly were in the military, right chief? Perhaps you were fragged or shelled in the head too many times…

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 38 Thumb down 12

  11. Andre Kenji says:

    @Tillman:

    The Royal Family also does less than the presidency in terms of governing.

    I wonder if his figure includes the cost of private schooling for the Presidential kids. I’d wager British taxpayers pay for the education of the Royal Children.

    Not only that.

    1-) It´s more expensive to keep the Chief of State of a large country, it´s more expensive to keep the chief of State of a Republic than of a Monarchy. It´s more expensive to move the President of the United States around the United States, a country larger than Europe. There are also the official visits to other countries, there are also the visits to places like Iraq and Afghanisthan, where servicemen are located).

    2-) That´s not the real cost:

    http://www.republic.org.uk/What%20we%20want/In%20depth/Royal%20finances/index.php

    Most European monarchies lies about the costs of their Royal Families.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 6

  12. bk says:

    Is there a point to using an article from the Daily Caller as the basis for a thread?

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 16 Thumb down 1

  13. Mads Singers says:

    Focus on the wrong things once again !
    It’s not about what you spend, but about ROI – If it cost half the amount of money and he was only half as effective, it would have been a very sad deal! Getting the most out of the countries top dog – whoever it is! Is worth a lot of money.

    Kind Regards
    Mads

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 5

  14. MM says:

    @bk: It will come up all week as evidence of the profligacy of the Obamas. Often within 10 words of the word ‘wookie”. Best to nip it in the bud ASAP.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 3

  15. In 2009, Snopes debunked the claim that Michelle Obama had an unprecedented number of staffers on her staff, turned out she has less people on staff than Laura Bush did.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 24 Thumb down 9

  16. Anderson says:

    The underlying animus here is that black people are presuming to have servants, rather than being servants.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 35 Thumb down 11

  17. Just Me says:

    I bet the Royal family pays its way for a lot of things as well.

    I think the vast majority of the cost is tied up in security and demands by the secret service to make security easier for them and safer for everyone.

    Security demands since 9-11 have increased and some of the costlier things are still necessary.

    I don’t really blame the person in the white house for the costs. In many ways the president doesn’t have much say in how security is going to be applied when out and about.

    I do think the president lives in a lot of luxury but some of that is due to security-it is much easier to protect the president on a private plane than it is to protect him or his family on a commercial plane.

    I would like to see campaigns be required to do more reimbursing for trips made by candidates to raise money or campaign-especially to local cities and states who have to provide the extra security at extra cost from funds that they may not have.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 2

  18. Christopher says:

    What about this huge building project under the White House that is being kept secret? Some sort of shelter -from what ? Cost is billions of dollars and will take 4 years..Look at this information:http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/12/white-house-big-dig-remai_n_1877484.html
    Also, huge comet heading toward Ear, larger than the moon: http://news.yahoo.com/blogs/technology-blog/comet-due-2013-could-brighter-full-moon-004852031.html

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 6

  19. Peter says:

    I do think the president lives in a lot of luxury but some of that is due to security-it is much easier to protect the president on a private plane than it is to protect him or his family on a commercial plane.

    Air Force One also has sophisticated communications equipment that allows the president to use it as basically a substitute White House. This is why when he travels, AF1 goes as close as possible to his destination, minimizing the time spent in the Marine One helicopter and the limousine. One factor in particular is that the president can address the nation on television from AF1. If something were to happen that would require an immediate television address, the idea is that if the president isn’t in the White House he should be only a short distance away from AF1.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 1

  20. Robert in SF says:

    Hi Doug,

    Is part of this sentence missing, or am I am still half asleep?

    Nonetheless, it seems rather obvious from comparing these two figures that the assertion that the costs to the taxpayer associated with the Presidency have increased “tremendously” under President Obama.

    Are you saying the assertions are something, as a result of the comparison? Overblown? Overestimated? Unsupported? Misunderstood?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 1

  21. Robert

    Yea that sentence needs to be fixed to make clear the assertions are wrong.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  22. Eric Florack says:

    Perspective Datapoint: The figures Doug has provided us, mean that Barry and Michelle have cost 20 times more to support these last three and a half years than the whole of the Royal Family.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 5 Thumb down 17

  23. The same could be said of the Bush’s, Eric.

    And in that case you’re comparing apples and oranges since costs such as maintaining royal castles are borne by the Royal Family, not the government.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 1

  24. Anderson says:

    “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Chairman you know who said that.

    Chairman Lao-Tzu?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  25. Eric Florack says:

    Actually, I’ve never seen the complaint from the left on that point… given the inclination of the left toward complaining about anything they can as regards Bush and his administration, I find your claim highly suspect.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 9

  26. michael reynolds says:

    I do love the comparison with the royal family. That’s brilliant. Obviously our presidents should have a means of dispossessing various fractious barons of their estates (and heads) and then consolidating their riches using the power of the state so that their families could be fabulously rich when their heirs in turn become president.

    I think if we want to update this system it would mean that Mr. Obama could simply take over the property owned by any of Mr. Romney’s campaign contributors in the event of a Romney loss. Some he could execute as traitors, some may simply pay ruinous fines and offer up daughters in marriage, and of course still others would escape to try and form rebel armies.

    Then, we elect Ned Stark and Peter Dinklage as his Vice President.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  27. Eric Florack says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Obviously our presidents should have a means of dispossessing various fractious barons of their estates (and heads) and then consolidating their riches using the power of the state so that their families could be fabulously rich when their heirs in turn become president.

    Really? How much are the Clintons worth these days? Have you even looked?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 8

  28. michael reynolds says:

    @Eric Florack:

    Here

    9. William Jefferson Clinton
    Net worth: $38 million
    In office: 1993 – 2001
    42nd president
    Unlike other presidents, Clinton did not inherit any wealth and gained little net worth during 20 plus years of public service. After his time in the White House, however, he earned a substantial income as an author and public speaker. Clinton received a large advance for his autobiography. His wife, the current Secretary of State, also has earned money as an author.

    So, as you can see. . . or as most people can see, anyway. . . Bill Clinton became wealthy after leaving office. Unlike, say, both Bushes, Mr. Reagan and other presidents who probably could have afforded to pick up some of the costs.

    Which, by the way, I would not have wanted them to do. Republican or Democrat, the costs of the POTUS is our responsibility as a nation, not the office-holder’s financial responsibility.

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  29. Anderson says:

    Surely Beldar has blogs where his bullshit is admired?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  30. Andre Kenji says:

    Most European Monarchies underestimate the costs of their royal families. They are fair more expensive than their official projections:

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/economy/king-size-costs-european-crisis-puts-new-spotlight-on-monarchies-spending/2012/08/23/073cdb78-e0cc-11e1-a19c-fcfa365396c8_story_1.html

    For all the uproar about Juan Carlos’s spending, Spain’s monarchy is Western Europe’s cheapest, at least according to official figures.

    In his sixth annual study, Matthijs found that the Spanish head of state’s cost to taxpayers was between $11 million and $12.3 million last year. More than 500 people are on the royal household payroll. Nearly half of the royal budget goes toward those personnel costs. Another 40 percent goes to operating expenses.

    In contrast, the Dutch royal family cost the Netherlands $48.5 million last year and austerity measures have brought the cost of the British monarchy down to $47 million.

    But Matthijs cautions that some of the costs of monarchies are hidden because they are rolled into foreign ministry or security budgets. The left-leaning Spanish newspaper El Publico estimated in December that the true cost of the monarchy was astronomically more — close to $74 million.

    Besides that, it´s more expensive to move around a President of a country that is as large as a continent, and that has to deal with all kinds of affairs all over the world. The Royal Family spends all their time around London. I don´t remember the Queen doing businesses trips, talking to the Chamber of Industries in São Paulo or something like that.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  31. anjin-san says:

    @ Florack

    No doubt you can provide links to the many posts you made on your own blog about the expense of the Bush Presidency to the taxpayers. I am standing by.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

  32. mannning says:

    The cost of flying the president around is far, far more than simply AF-1. There is virtually always a backup 747 for AF-1 in the event of mechanical failure of the current AF-1 that is stationed perhaps a few hours away from the destination of AF-1. There are anywhere from two to four transport aircraft, probably C-17s, that carry advanced parties of security and communications specialists to the destination, and their room and board costs, several vehicles for ground transport of the president and his security details, and further advanced parties if there are multiple legs to the trip, and even helicopters transported by air if thought necessary at the destinations.

    It is easy to accept the security and communications used as a necessary part of the presidential party on official business. What is not so easy to accept is the use of all this to campaign for a second term or to support the campaigns of senators and representatives of the party in power, plus travelling to social events or the theater (with a political speech throw in as cover) and golf games around the nation and in foreign nations, or sending the First Lady and her entourage on some trumped up mission overseas.

    The taxpayer is paying for the incumbent’s campaign in large measure, which is not a level playing field for the competition. This is true for Bush and Obama, and is a long-term trend towards an imperial presidency insofar as travel and campaigning is concerned. The taxpayer should be asking pointed questions of any president: “is this trip really necessary?”

    Presidents should exercise restraint in using these travel perks to truly necessary trips.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 3

  33. dennis says:

    @Eric Florack:

    Oh, sweet, Jesus… <>

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 4

  34. Barbara Carson says:

    I hear this crap from all right wing talk shows but they neglect to say how much money billionaires are spending on their candidate to get elected. We know the reason they do too not to help the country but to help themselves.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 5

  35. anjin-san says:

    What’s up with Florack’s pathological hatred of self made men like Clinton and Obama? That’s kind of the American dream – come from nowhere, make it to the top. But no, he despises them and patiently waits for a chance to lick the boots of the silver spoon crowd.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 3

  36. Eric Florack says:

    Besides that, it´s more expensive to move around a President of a country that is as large as a continent

    Reasonable. Should we compare the costs involved to say, Australia?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 4

  37. @Eric Florack: A country with almost a million fewer square miles? And the largest city on the northern coast of Australia is Darwin with less than 130,000 people? And on the west side of the country, the city with a sizable population is Perth with 1.8 million? After Perth, there’s Mandurah with 88,000?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 1

  38. michael reynolds says:

    @anjin-san:

    We need a name for this syndrome, this weird need of guys living in trailers to give hand-jobs to billionaires. I just don’t get it. Do they think some crumbs will fall from the master’s table? From whence comes this insitinct to toady?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 2

  39. Eric Florack says:

    @Timothy Watson: True enough, but that would seem to require more in the way of transportation costs for government types, no?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 2

  40. Eric Florack says:

    @michael reynolds: So, do you know of anyone who has gotten a living wage job from a poor person?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 2

  41. Eric Florack says:

    @anjin-san: Can’t the lkeft do it’s own research? THey blame Bush for everything, and yet seemingly have not come up with such listings. Can it be that even they figure that the money involved won’t help their position?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 3

  42. David Margolies says:

    @11B40: Confucius (not to the best of my knowledge chairman of anything) said it.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0