Do we have a President of the United States, or the Shah of Saudi Arabia? That is the question. Is our dear President a servant of the people, or the Emperor of Persia? Are the First Lady and the First Daughters royalty? They act as if they are.
How necessary is presidential travel? For about the first 160 years of our history, evidently not very. President Theodore Roosevelt (1901-09) was not only the first president to ride in an automobile, but also the first president to travel outside the country when he visited Panama. Woodrow Wilson was the first president to visit Europe, in December of 1918. FDR was the first president to fly to another country, meeting with Churchill and De Gaulle at Casablanca in 1943. President Obama, Vice President Biden, and Michelle Obama fly frequently, at taxpayer’s expense, and the benefits of all that travel to the people aren’t easy to discern.
Does the President and his family have an unlimited expense account at the expense of the taxpayers? They act as if they do. So does the Vice President. We’ve seen enormous travel expenditures in the many millions of dollars by the current leaders and their families.
Here are some examples of their uncontrolled spending at taxpayer expense:
I’d like to see legislation reining in the wild spending. There should be budgets and rules, set by the House of Representatives, on what the President can spend in three key areas: official business, vacations, and campaigning.
Admittedly, the president and vice president aren’t ordinary folks. They must be protected at all times. But, they shouldn’t have carte blanche, able to spend millions of taxpayer dollars on a whim. The taxpayers should only have to pay for official business.
First, let’s talk about the travel costs of the presidency. The president can fly around in Air Force One, usually the Boeing 747 which reportedly costs $179,750 per hour to operate: USA Today estimate of Air Force One costs. Much of that is personnel cost; maintenance, operational, and command folks. It’s a big aircraft, large enough to hold his retinue, including Secret Service and other staff, as well as guests and reporters. But, that’s only the beginning. Wherever the president goes, often so go his armored limousines, and they are generally flown in with separate aircraft. Also, there are usually Secret Service staff who fly in ahead of time to make local security arrangements. So, a presidential visit is a big deal, cost-wise.
The vice president and the First Lady travel in one of several modified Boeing 757’s under the call sign of “Air Force Two.” There are several such aircraft, which no doubt cost less to operate but are still very significant.
Congress should budget air travel for the president. They should define the rules for:
Official business: within the US, this travel should be regulated. Traveling to make a speech is unnecessary: he can be televised on a large screen, while staying in Washington. A reasonable number of trips might be one per month, and more than that would require a resolution from the House of Representatives, on an individual basis. Travel outside the US is much more expensive, and each trip should be approved in advance by the House. Going to Stockholm to accept the Nobel Peace Prize was peachy keen, but did the taxpayers have to pay for it?
What should be the purpose of official visits? Meeting with foreign heads of state. That’s it.
Vacation travel: Vacations are necessary, but two paid vacations per year should be enough for anyone. More than two should be pre-approved by the House. To keep a party from issuing a rubber stamp for travel, the resolution allowing travel should need a two-thirds majority to pass.
Campaign travel: Campaigning and political fund-raising should be entirely paid for by the president’s political campaign, or by the president himself.
Now let’s get into some sticky areas:
Multi-stop trips: Count each stop as a separate trip and apply the rules listed above.
Multi-purpose trips: where official business is involved with vacation travel, as long as the president is within his budget, the Federal Government should bear the cost. If any campaigning or fund-raising is involved, the costs should be pro-rated but the federal travel budget should not pay more than half the cost.
The Vice President’s travel: The Vice President should be subject to the same rules as the president.
The First Lady and the First Children (and pets). The First Lady is not an employee of the United States. Her travel, and that of family members should not be provided by the Federal Government except as passengers traveling with the president.