The political watchdog group Judicial Watch is suing the government to ascertain the costs to taxpayers of President Obama’s January 2013 trip to Hawaii, the second he took to the Aloha State during this winter’s holiday season.
According to Judicial Watch, the Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the Secret Service seeks:
All records concerning use of U.S. Government funds to provide security and/or other services to President Obama and any companions on their January 1 and 2, 2013 trip to Honolulu, Hawaii.
The lawsuit focuses on Obama’s shocking decision to travel to Hawaii a second time on January 1 after having returned to Washington from his initial sojourn there in late December in order to conduct negotiations to avoid the Fiscal Cliff.
At the time, White House Dossier estimated Obama’s second trip added over $3 million to the more than $4 million that the first Hawaii excursion had already cost taxpayers. A significant portion of the known costs are attributable to the use of Air Force One, which costs about $180,000 an hour to fly.
Judicial Watch says it is filing the lawsuit in the wake the Secret Service’s failure to state – as required by law – whether it would comply with a January 2, 2013 Judicial Watch FOIA request for information.
The $7 million price tag for President Obama’s most recent Hawaii vacation could pay the salaries of about 160 teachers for a full year.
Obama Tuesday sought to dramatize the potential effects of the sequester by surrounding himself with more than a dozen first responders whom he said would be “degraded” in their ability to do their jobs while alleging “thousands of teachers and educators will be laid off” and critical government functions like prosecuting criminals would be damaged with criminals filling the streets.
He suggested Republicans would be to blame, even though he originally insisted on the sequester and must be party to any deal.
At an average salary of about $44,000 a year, Obama could have taken care of about 160 teachers by skipping his vacation – and nearly that number by simply vacationing a little closer to home.
That’s because some $6 million of the $7 million expense of Obama’s trip was due to the use of Air Force One, which he hopped aboard not once, but twice, to journey roundtrip to Oahu. If he’d choppered to Camp David or one of the beautiful resorts in the mountains of Virginia or West Virginia – or even just flown to Florida if he and Michelle required tropical weather – he would have paid scores of teachers’ salaries.
The estimate of another $1 million for Hawaii trip costs like staff, security, local travel and the use of cargo planes is almost certainly low.
Obama’s annual Hawaii idyll was more expensive than usual this year because he chose to return to paradise after suspending his vacation and traveling back to Washington to deal with the fiscal cliff.
Should any of those first responders on the dais have been in danger of losing their jobs, Obama’s vacation cost could have taken care of them all plus dozens more, since first responders make only about $35,000 a year.
In describing the potential cutbacks, Obama painted a dire picture:
Emergency responders like the ones who are here today — their ability to help communities respond to and recover from disasters will be degraded. Border Patrol agents will see their hours reduced. FBI agents will be furloughed. Federal prosecutors will have to close cases and let criminals go. Air traffic controllers and airport security will see cutbacks, which means more delays at airports across the country.
Thousands of teachers and educators will be laid off. Tens of thousands of parents will have to scramble to find childcare for their kids. Hundreds of thousands of Americans will lose access to primary care and preventive care like flu vaccinations and cancer screenings.
What’s unclear is why, when the administration makes the cuts, vital services such as these would be hit so hard. Obama has not delineated how he would apportion the cuts. Presumably he would focus on less-critical spending and waste.
While on a ritzy vacation that set taxpayers back at least $7 million, Michelle Obama made a public display of wearing a cheap, off the rack dress from Target that cost her about $30.
The first lady was photographed arriving and departing Hawaii in the same Target Merona brand dress. What she wore while out of sight of photographers during her stay at her lavish vacation home and visits to expensive restaurants is unclear.
Michelle, who as first lady often wears high-end designer clothing and pricey accoutrements and takes exorbitant vacations to far-flung locales like South Africa, the Spanish Riviera and the finest Rocky Mountain ski slopes, works hard to maintain her regular gal image by occasionally donning cheap stuff. She brought a member of the media along a little while back to make sure she was photographed pushing a shopping cart around Target.
Including the costs of two Air Force One roundtrips to ferry President Obama back on forth to Oahu, the the taxpayer price tag for the vacation was at least $7 million.
Michelle has worn the dress before and it long ago was sold out, but similar Target dresses retail for about $30 or less.
Michelle Obama recently revealed that she and President Obama don’t give Christmas gifts to each other. They merely say, “We’re in Hawaii,” and that’s Christmas gift enough.
But actually the present is from taxpayers, and it’s an expensive one.
The total cost to taxpayers of Obama’s vacations to Hawaii since becoming president is likely in excess of $20 million, and possibly much, much more. During a time of budget deficits that threaten the nation’s security and its future, the Obamas have chosen to maintain a “family tradition” and vacation halfway around the world instead of finding far cheaper alternatives closer to home.
The $20 million figure is based on estimates of the cost of the four Hawaii vacations the Obamas have taken during Christmastime 2009-2012. According to a detailed breakdown by the Hawaii Reporter, the annual excursions in 2009, 2010, and 2011 cost about $4 million, much of it attributable to the expense of taking Air Force One, at an hour rate of about $180,000, on an eighteen-hour roundtrip journey to Honolulu and back.
But $4 million almost certainly underestimates the true tally, as it does not include many miscellaneous items like the cost of flying advance teams out to Hawaii and separate flights Michelle Obama took in 2010 and 2011, when she left ahead of her husband, who was forced to stay in Washington to finish up work with Congress.
This year, Obama returned from Hawaii to complete a deal on the Fiscal Cliff and then jetted back to Honolulu, where he is now engaged in Part 2 of his vacation. The second roundtrip flight added about $3.24 million to the tab this time, bringing the cost of the 2012-1013 vacation to well over $7 million.
If we assume the estimates are probably quite low, then it’s likely to the bill for the combined vacations is more than $20 million.
Given that much of the cost involves transporting the First Family and its retinue, the Obamas could have saved taxpayers millions by doing what the vast majority of Americans do: taking either one trip a year, or none.
The Obamas get plenty of vacation. They have sojourned every summer in Martha’s Vineyard except for last year, when campaigning and pre-election concern about appearances got in the way. They often take a side trip somewhere else during the year, and Michelle goes skiing annually out West.
At the very least, they could spend their Christmas holidays at Camp David or at one of the many fine resorts outside of Washington, which would require only the use of the presidential helicopter to get them there.
If they must find a warm haven, a rental home on the Gulf Coast, the Atlantic shore of Florida, or even Puerto Rico or the U.S. Virgin Islands could easily be arranged at a fraction of the price of getting to Hawaii.
Some argue that Obama is justified in returning to Hawaii because that is where he spent his formative years. But how many of us get to go visit our roots for a two week vacation every year?
The Obamas probably also feel they must go to Hawaii because they are creatures of habit. While there, they do the same things and visit the same places every year. But their allegiance to routine is costing the taxpayers – including those in the middle class Obama claims to care so much about – millions of dollars.
Which brings us to OBAMA 5-0.
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President Obama wasted no time Wednesday setting out on his usual vacation rituals, landing in the gym at 6:15 am – less than an hour and a half after landing in Honolulu itself – and then heading out mid-morning to play golf.
He had another marathon session on the links with the boys, spending around six hours engaging in his favorite pastime. Then after a brief restup at the house it was time for dinner at Alan Wong’s, where in December 2011 middle class warriors Barack and Michelle dropped about $260 on dinner.
Obama’s golf outing was his first of the year and the 112th of his presidency.
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