American taxpayers are likely to pay more than $1 million for President Barack Obama’s Christmas vacation in Hawaii -- even if he decides to spend the holidays at the White House.
“His wife, I understand, has already left so there’s no doubt at some point that he’s going to catch up to her, but the money has already been spent,” said Republican strategist and political commentator Bradley A. Blakeman, who recalls the marked contrast in working for President George W. Bush during the Christmas holidays.
“Millions and millions of dollars are wasted already regardless of whether the president catches up with his family or not,” Blakeman said about the president’s planned holiday.
Blakeman, who served as a member of Bush’s senior staff from 2001-2004, told Newsmax that President Bush only brought a “skeleton crew” to his ranch in Crawford, Texas — and they stayed in trailers.
“They weren’t staying in five-star hotels on the beach,” says Blakeman, who will be featured regularly as an Insider columnist on Newsmax.com. “The most extravagant thing that they did was probably go out for barbecue. The president stayed home, basically, and relaxed at home or did work. He wasn’t surfing.”
In contrast, about two dozen Obama staffers stayed at the Moana Surfrider, a Westin Resort & Spa, on Waikiki Beach during the president’s 2010 Christmas vacation, which carries a non-government rate of between $350 to $450 a night. The Secret Service and Navy SEALs rented six beachfront homes last year for between $1,000 and $1,250 a day, reported the Hawaii Reporter, noting that city taxpayers were never been reimbursed for $350,000 they spent on police overtime for Obama trips in 2008 and 2009.
The president has faced something of a vacation dilemma since the media began reporting plans of the costly 17-day Christmas vacation at a time when Obama was urging Congress to stay in Washington and work out a deal on the payroll tax extension, which is set to expire at the end of the year.
Such a lavish vacation at a time when many Americans are struggling will not play well in the nation's heartland, either, said conservative Iowa radio talk show host Simon Conway of News Radio 1040 WHO-AM in Des Moines.
“The president is entitled to a vacation,” says Conway, who will also be featured regularly as an Insider columnist. “I think it’s the style of vacations he has — the length of time he goes away.”
Obama and his family use their own money to rent a private beach-front residence in Kailua, Oahu, for their vacation — a so-called “Winter White House” — which rents for up to $3,500 a day or $75,000 a month, according to AOL travel blog Gadling.
The 7,000-square-foot rental boasts “five bedrooms, 5.5 bathrooms, a media room with surround sound, a kitchen suited for a master chef, a dining room and great room, a secluded lagoon-style pool with tropical waterfalls and a lavish island spa,” Gadling reported. The ocean lanai and garden lanai also showcase ornate landscaping and “stunning views” of Kailua Bay and Mount Olomana.
The fact that the president’s family is traveling separately only adds to the cost.
Last year, the Hawaii Reporter calculated the taxpayer bill for one Obama vacation in Hawaii to be in excess of $1.5 million — for a running total of about $6 million since the Hawaiian native was elected president.
That includes about $1 million to take Air Force One to Hawaii, and an additional $140,000 for each U.S. Air Force C-17 cargo aircraft that is used to transport presidential limos, helicopters and other support equipment, according to the Hawaii Reporter.
Taxpayers will most likely be asked to kick in more than $1 million to cover added security and accommodations for the president’s entourage and transportation, based on estimates from Hawaiian media organizations.
White House press secretary Jay Carney has told reporters that the president’s travel plans are still up in the air, but that the presidency travels with the president wherever he goes, and his No. 1 priority is that Congress take action to prevent an increase in payroll taxes.
“If it’s so important, he’s the president of the United States — he should call the senate back to Washington, D.C. immediately,” adds Conway, the WHO talk-show host. “That’s what a leader does.”
Blakeman agrees that Obama used poor judgment in planning a Hawaiian vacation in the first place, given such high nationwide unemployment.
“Just as many Americans can’t have the vacation they would like, I would have told my family ‘we’re staying local and we’re going to Camp David this year',” Blakeman insists. “Camp David is not a bad place to hang out either and it would have saved the taxpayers. ... It’s hardly a sacrifice on the president’s behalf.”
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