HE’S BACK FOR THE SECOND TIME in a month.
“He” is Hillary Clinton’s #1 (or maybe #2) pitchman, the incumbent president.
He was in south Florida a few weeks ago; he’s back again.
At taxpayer expense.
The president – any president – travels at the taxpayers’ expense.
Air Force 1, a Boeing 747 – at least it’s U.S.-made and not an EU Airbus - costs, according to the U.S. Air Force, $228,288 an hour to operate, a massive $48,535 jump from the 2012 estimate of $179,750, or 27 percent. USA Today notes that Costs for each trip are even higher when factoring in the passenger and cargo aircraft that often accompany the president's plane, although those figures weren't specified in the eight-page report.
The president spentmore than $7.3 million on just three trips in 2013, including $2.1 million to appear on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” in August, according to new flight documents provided by the Air Force to a public watchdog group.
Judicial Watch reported that the sky-high jet travel costs for the first family's 2012-2013 Christmas vacation in Hawaii, their beach vacation on Martha's Vineyard last summer and President Obama's brief trip to California in August totaled $7,396,531.20.
The normally left-to-far left of center National Public Radio (NPR) under the headline FACT CHECK: Air Force One, Who Pays? answers its own question thusly:
That's the question a lot of people were asking after Hillary Clinton hitched a ride to Charlotte, N.C., this week with President Obama for their first joint campaign appearance.
While it's unusual for an incumbent president to campaign actively for his would-be successor, the question itself is not new. It's been raised before whenever presidents travel for their own re-election campaign or on behalf of House and Senate candidates and campaign committees.
"There are payments that are made by the [Democratic National Committee] to the federal government anytime the president is traveling for political purposes," White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters, who were also flying aboard the presidential 747. "Those rules apply both for routine fundraising trips but also when Secretary Clinton is aboard Air Force One."
The rules allocate a portion of the flight costs to the DNC or the Clinton campaign. But they do not cover the full cost of operating Air Force One, estimated at $206,337 per hour.
NPR goes on to explain that
Reimbursement rates are based on what it would cost to charter a plane to carry only campaign travelers. According to the Federal Election Commission (FEC regulations), this plane "need not be the same size as the government-operated aircraft actually used. ... For example, a significant portion of Air Force One may be occupied by personnel and equipment mandated by national-security requirements and other needs associated with the office of the President, not the campaign."
In practice, reimbursement rates might be based on what it costs to charter a smaller Boeing 737, which is cheaper to operate than Air Force One. (Bold emphasis mine.)
Journalists and “the public” traveling on AF1 pay calculated commercial airfares unless there's a separate press charter, in which case journalists pay the full cost of that plane. Campaign rules also spell out an alternative reimbursement rate that candidates can use for government aircraft on which the public is allowed to travel for a published fee. NPR does not define who constitutes the "public" Campaign advisors? Nor does NPR give a clue as to how commercial airfares are calculated. Anyone who has flown recently knows that airfares vary from airline to airline, from day or week and time of day.
The Washington Post, hardly a bastion of conservatism, generally agrees with NPR.
Under a headline reading "Air Force One is a heck of an expensive perk — for taxpayers", the Post notes:
Flying from New York to Mumbai in Etihad Airways' three-room suite (which comes with its own butler) will run you about $38,000 for the 21-hour journey. That's about $1,800 an hour -- only about 71 times what the average American earns as an hourly wage.
That's not the priciest flight in the world, though. That honor may belong to a trip on the luxury Boeing 747-200B that includes a bedroom, kitchen, office and plenty of seating for friends, family, dignitaries, reporters and Cabinet secretaries. Because we are talking about Air Force One. Trips on the president's plane cost about $200,000 an hour, according to CNN, although the primary passenger gets his rides comped.
What about everyone else? When it was announced over the weekend that President Obama would be campaigning with Hillary Clinton in North Carolina on Tuesday, Donald Trump quickly questioned who was footing the bill. "Why is President Obama allowed to use Air Force One on the campaign trail with Crooked Hillary?" he tweeted. "She is flying with him tomorrow. Who pays?"
The answer is: Clinton -- but mostly you. Clinton's campaign told Fox News that it would "cover its portion of the costs," as is "standard practice." That's true, but that portion still leaves Obama's normal expense-payers making up most of the cost.
While AF1 probably is the biggest cost, the chief executive also manages to consume taxpayer dollars on the local level, and then has the chutzpah to tie up highways and byways for presidential (and candidate) motorcades. Candidates are supposed to pay for police escorts, road blockages – often during rush hours – and supplemental (to their own) security. There is a military term for this, but as a ”family friendly” blog it will go unwritten.
Obama and Clinton are not the first politicians to abuse the taxpayer. Before the plane became the primary mode of long distance transportation, trains carried both elected officials and those who hoped to be elected. Political trains, having Priority One, forced all other trains onto a siding until they passed.
For all that, I cannot understand why I have to pay a red cent for a politician’s jaunt to disturb my community. Politicians – or their party coffers – pay for media advertisements. Why not travel as well. The parties pay for land transportation – candidate Obama traveled around in a several hundred thousand dollar Made-In-Canada mobile mansion. (Why he could not Buy America was beyond me at the time; having watched him in action, I now understand.)
As the military reporter with the Trenton Times-Advertiser, I was invited to participate in a joint Air Force-Army exercise. I flew – gratis – in an Air Force plane, along with about 80 fully equipped 82nd Airborne paratroops. No room to turn around. I few back and forth between my quarters and the exercise site on Air Force, Navy, and Army aircraft. I paid for my meals, but my billeting was gratis.
The price I was expected – and did – pay was one or more write ups in the newspaper.
Hardly AF1. (I returned in a DC 3 to Andrews AFB where AF1 is based.)