The Presidency Costs Taxpayers A Lot, But That’s Not Obama’s Fault
The Presidency costs taxpayers a lot of money, but that's been true for many, many years now.
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.