Ask Stacy: Why Should We Pay for Obama’s Vacations?

The president’s flights don’t cost him a dime, but cost taxpayers $180,000 per hour. Is it fair?

With summer vacation time rapidly approaching, I thought this would be a good time to tackle the following vacation-related question from a reader.

Mrs. Obama, her two children and her mother, along with staff and security people, are flying to China in Air Force Two for a vacation that the American taxpayers are paying for. WHY?

The country is going deeper in debt and millions of our dollars are being wasted by our first family for vacations, etc. Why isn’t anything being said about this in the media? What right do they have to waste our money? If they want vacations let them pay for it themselves. I have to pay for mine.

The VA is running out of funds and has to drop programs for vets, yet these people travel around the world on our money. — Harry

Are we paying for the president’s vacation?

Unfortunately, while this question is simple, the answer isn’t.

The president is responsible for vacation-related activities and personal expenses for himself and his family while on vacation. But lest you think that leaves taxpayers off the hook, think again.

Unlike you, me or Harry, the president doesn’t really ever get a true vacation. He and his family are required to travel via military aircraft. He’s also required to travel with sophisticated communications equipment, as well as a complete entourage of advisers and security. And the taxpayers are required to pick up the tab.

He flies on Air Force One, typically a Boeing 747, which reportedly costs the Air Force about $180,000 an hour to operate. And while you and I might visit the rental car counter when we fly somewhere, the president travels with his own armored limousine, known as “The Beast,” as well as other vehicles.

While presidents travel in expensive style, however, they also do something the rest of us try to do: mix a little pleasure into business trips. So if he goes, say, to Moscow for a summit, we’re paying the tab for him, his family, his motorcade and his entourage to get there and stay there. If he stays an extra day for some sightseeing or buys something from a Russian souvenir shop, however, he’s supposed to pay for that himself.

What about Michelle?

This reader is specifically asking about a recent trip Michelle Obama took to China without her husband. According to CBS News, she traveled with her children, Sasha and Malia, as well as her mother, Marian Shields Robinson.

First ladies often travel without their spouses. According to CBS, the purpose of this trip was to enhance our country’s relationship with China:

The highly orchestrated visit is intended to help soften U.S.-China relations. It also includes a number of events with China’s first lady — less than a year after Mrs. Obama missed her visit to the U.S., which some read as a political snub.

But no matter how diplomatic the mission, these trips nearly always include some components of a nice vacation, including fancy digs, dinners and sightseeing, or at least what you and I would consider sightseeing. Those making these trips would probably describe it as respecting the host country by visiting their most impressive sights, as well as by walking among and interacting with their citizens.

Just how much do these trips cost?

According to CBS, the White House refused to disclose the cost of Michelle’s recent China trip, because disclosing costs means revealing too much about the level of security present.

However, we can take comfort in the fact the plane she used wasn’t an Air Force One 747, but an Air Force Two 757 that’s much less expensive. It reportedly costs a mere $12,000 per hour to operate.

But nailing down the exact cost of these planes is more difficult than it might seem. For example, U.S. News & World Report quoted a White House official who took exception to the above figure:

The number stated is misconstrued and out of context. The hourly rate is not the marginal cost of operation [of] the plane — it is an accounting figure that prices in a number of fixed costs from maintaining the Air Force fleet for this kind of plane over a year. … For example, it includes estimated replacement parts, depreciation, repairs, and costs that would have been incurred regardless of this flight.

About one thing, however, there’s no dispute. Each and every presidential trip costs taxpayers more than the typical American family will spend on a lifetime of vacations.

Is it fair?

Harry says, “What right do they have to waste our money? If they want vacations let them pay for it themselves. I have to pay for mine.”

I feel you, Harry.

Being the president comes with many terrifically expensive perks, all supplied by taxpayers. Presidents and their families live in a mansion that comes with a staff of nearly 500 people. (See them all, along with their salaries, here.) They ride in armored limousines and fly in the most sophisticated planes ever built. And whether they’re at home, on the road or on vacation, they’re surrounded by dozens of people, all of whom we pay for.

Whether all this is too extravagant, especially when the economy is slow, depends on your point of view. But perhaps you can take some comfort from the fact that the debate isn’t new, nor is it confined to the Obamas. From The New York Times:

Other presidents have come under fire for vacation habits. Ronald Reagan retreated to his ranch at Santa Barbara, Calif., and Mr. Bush to his outside Crawford, Texas. Mr. Clinton had no home and, like Mr. Obama, favored rental estates on Martha’s Vineyard.

Why does the media ignore this?

Harry asks, “Why isn’t anything being said about this in the media?”

The media does say a lot about this, Harry. In fact, I’m wondering how you came across this topic if not from someone in the media. Do a Web search for “the cost of presidential vacations” and you’ll be reading until long after the cows, and the Obamas, come home.

Both the cost and frequency of presidential vacations have been a source of political fodder for decades. Typically you find the most outrage from those opposed to whoever is currently in office. That’s something we can test with this week’s question. Tell me, Harry: Would you by chance be a Republican?

Got a money-related question you’d like answered?

You can ask a question simply by hitting “reply” to our email newsletter. If you’re not subscribed, fix that right now by clicking here.

The questions I’m likeliest to answer are those that will interest other readers. In other words, don’t ask for super-specific advice that applies only to you. And if I don’t get to your question, promise not to hate me. I do my best, but I get a lot more questions than I have time to answer.

Got any words of wisdom you can offer for this week’s question? Share your knowledge and experiences on our Facebook page.

Stacy Johnson

It's not the usual blah, blah, blah

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  • Sherrie Ludwig

    This article is so specious as, a thinly veiled attack on our first black president. The whining of the racists and tea-party haters is getting REALLY irritating. We have paid for “Camp David” for many terms of presidents, both Democratic and Republican. We have paid for George (both I and II) to shuttle back and forth, for fake “see, I’m a real rancher” brush-cutting photo ops. Heck, we probably paid for the defense lawyers to get George the II’s twin daughters off the hook for that underage drinking debacle. Your comment section claims to refuse racist, uninformed posts. How about uninformed, racist articles? This one stinks, and deserves a retraction.

    • What’s so bad about vacationing in the USA when our economy is in a shambles? Yellowstone, Yosemite, Olympic Rainforest, Alaska’s inland passage, are all beautiful places to see just in the western US. We have a wonderful and beautiful country! it would set a better example to those struggling in this economy for them to vacation here rather than Jetsetting around the world like money was no object.

      • Exactly. If the British Prime Minister can take a train 2 hours away from London to cloudy Cornwall for a holiday, then I think Obama can visit one of the many wonderful places in the U.S. If he has to spend $1m for a trip, don’t you think it would be a good idea for him to spend it at home? Of course it would! His holidays would actually support local economies and save jobs.

  • violetmoon

    Sorry, this has been the norm for the entire time we have had presidents. Why should this even be a question (unless of course, you are racist)? Why not question Eisenhower, Nixon, or Bush?

    • Paul

      wow. That’s quite a leap, from concern over spending during a difficult economic period to being called a racist.
      violetmoon, you’re just ignorant.

      • Paul, your comment was deleted. As it states plainly above, there’s no name-calling here.

        • Paul

          Stacy, check violetmoon’s comment – is “you are racist” name calling? Perhaps I should have simply flagged it as inappropriate rather than commenting on it.

          • I probably wouldn’t have removed it had it been flagged, Paul. Saying “unless you’re racist” isn’t really name calling. That being said, I really don’t see how anyone who actually read that entire article could have made that comment. In fact, as far as I can tell, many of the people commenting on this post didn’t read it in its entirety.

  • Guest

    I never had a prob with Clinton in on the islands off of Mass or Reagan’s home in California. Those places are all here in the states. Obama and his family have insisted on vacations in Spain, China, etc. where tax payers are footing the bill for their entourage and security and those costs go into the millions for each trip. Not only that , but the American people are left out because the press is restricted so we can’t even see what we are paying for! China was a good choice because they hate freedom of the press and were right in line with the FLOTUS’s wish to avoid all press. Why can’t the president and his family visit some places in the USA? Yellowstone, Yosemite, Disneyland, Olympic Rainforest, or the great Appalachian mountains are great examples of places to visit here. Or is that so far beneath these modern jetsetters?

    • mibtp

      The PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES does not have an “entourage.” he is the LEADER OF THE FREE WORLD not only juggling one world crisis after another, cleaning up the crappy economy Bush left behind but also dealing with those like you who don’t feel our President is entitled to everything his predecessors had. And I wonder why that is?

  • Brian_R_Allen

    …. Moocherlle-Antoinette and her court travelled to China in Air Force Two ….

    No they didn’t.

    “Air Force Two” is a designator, only and is applied to whatever aircraft the vice president is in.

    When Moocherlle is on board an airforce aircraft it’s likely designated Executive 1F. (One Foxtrot)

    Another thing that bothers me about the staggering waste flying these wastrels about is that no-one ever seems to factor in the cost of buying and of replacing the fleet of oil-sheikh-like spiv kites politicians and bureaucrats maintain for themselves. About $1,000.00 per minute for one of the B-747 variants used for the president. Who is no more deserving of such opulence than is any other non-productive (or in the case of the encumbent, ANTI-productive) public-trough-fed bum!

    Who in Hell do they think they are? Singapore’s petty dictator Lee family, perhaps? (That uses the whole country as its property)

    When she was speaker, Nazi Pelosi and her claque went through about 120,000 Tax-Payer Dollars worth of booze in about a year of God alone knows how many Millions of Dollars worth of spiv kiting back and forth to California.

    Brian Richard Allen

    • CCRN

      Name calling significantly reduces your credibility.

    • Kent

      Congratulations, you have the most immature post on this site and any other site I have seen all week. And you look quite old.

    • Keith Nagel

      Somehow I’m guessing you didn’t care about George W. spending millions for a silly carrier landing and “mission (not) accomplished” banner. She is the First Lady of the United States of America. Her name is Michelle Obama. Your name-calling has revealed your intelligence. Perhaps you should read a civics text book, rather than Newsmax, Drudge, or the even more reliable Fox News?

  • Melodie

    I’m a democrat, married to an African American and I agree with Harry. It seems like the Obama’s are always on vacation with minimal work to do so taxpayers pay the bill. But it’s crappy that you have to throw that last sentence in, like only republicans would have a problem with this. They could give us total cost of trip without compromising security, they just don’t want to. And Reagan and Bush going to their OWN homes, IN the U.S. is nowhere near as expensive. Oh, and let’s don’t forget the golf we pay for also.

  • speaksthetruth

    I am sorry, but I take a hit of racism in this post. Bush traveled 23 times his first year of presidency, and let’s not forget his father also traveled throughout his presidency WITH his son. Bush last year of presidency he travel 38 times, he was away more then he was at the white house. And when he was there he only had 6 meetings, should I also remind you this is around the time 9/11 has happened. Why isn’t he at more meeting? Why his he playing Golf on private islands. Like Violetmoon said why his this now a question?

  • speaksthetruth

    Do you know what else we had to pay as tax payers, Bush Jr’s daughter’s DUI’s. No one is complaining about that, are they? How many times did Bush paid for your kid’s Bond? How many times did we pay for their bond? the answer is 3

  • ronald dejoie

    OK. Saving money is a good idea. But lets start with the next president

  • Kent

    Money well spent. When you consider that Obama is sort of a combination of Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr., he deserves whatever protection we can provide when you consider the racial maturity of our country.

  • Of the billions of dollars wasted in this country the president’s vacation is a drop in the ocean. I know Obama is the target of much nonsensical junk, but this is a bit over the top.


    I’m so tired of this bulldookie RACIST hogwash it shouldn’t matter the color when your wrong your wrong. I’m black and it’s obvious he is taking this too far and then some…. We are starving loosing jobs business housing and safe foods higher cost of living while millions is living here free… They get free money free housing free education free jobs free business ” If you vote for me ” He is taking care of his people real good, but what about the rest of us ? He needs to go and take his diseased stinking disrespectful black, white, and red hating people back with him to AFRICA THEY GOTTA GO ! He has lied to us over and over hurting us in every fashion possible changing laws he don’t even understand and I’m ashamed of him and his… So embarrassing he’s not President material he’s a joke and it’s not funny… You need to wake up and deal with reality he’s hurting from our babies to our elders and this is a fact not RACIST BUT REALITY !!! Oh ! and the excuses he’s straightening up from the previous Presidents has played out this is his second term and he has messed up more than any President including Bush… Why would the U S A clutter us with diseased disrespectful American hating creatures.. They fluid our apartments smell worse than dead bodies lie on us cheat us messed up our schools with taking a brake to go get water out of the sink then go wash their hands and feet in the toilet. It’s against their religion to wash their bodies. Filled with so many new sicknesses we now are getting hurting us as a people in too many ways. Mexicans, Germans, Polish, Africans and more living here free bragging about it laughing and calling us Tricks and Fools.. Learn the truth and see it it’s right in front of all of us. Many have new cars new houses Rent paid buy government and can’t evict them while they smell worse than dead bodies.. Man our home has become a dump filled with feces and it stinks. WAKE UP !

  • Sarah

    I mix business with pleasure when I can, because I may not be back in the same area ever again. The President has four years and eight years at the most filled with stress and responsibility every single day of their term. Much more of these trips are orchestrated for politics and show than I’m sure many realize. I may not like it but I would be more worried about a President who does nothing but work.

    Working without rest is a sure way to make sure you get to be much worse at your job. I personally couldn’t stand the Bush nightmares and wasn’t too fond of Clinton either. However, I find it suspect that the current President who is working his butt off to keep us on good terms with countries our economy is chained to is being blasted by conservatives. You could not give me that man’s job or his wife’s job for all the tea in China.

    When it comes to the next President we elect, I will definitely sympathize with our ever more complex relationships with other countries. It’s getting harder to keep the peace and for once I would like to think people would start working together and offer help instead of petty criticism.

  • Melodie

    I don’t think any of the presidents should go on vacation but once a year like most people and they sure shouldn’t take tons of seperate trips!

  • Melodie

    Yes, sure BBQs on the White House Lawn compare to trips to Africa, Hawaii. China, ect.

  • Santee555

    You had No issues with the “Great Vacationist” 43 – Bush!
    And now because you don’t like this President and don’t really respect the Office, you have a different perspective.
    Wow, what a Great American you are! ***NOT!!!***

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