Skip to comments.Clinton: Most Expensive Presidential Trip Ever
Posted on 05/08/2003 8:56:47 AM PDT by TaRaRaBoomDeAyGoreLostToday!
March 30, 2000
There he goes again. Our globe-trotting president was flying high this month, traveling to Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Oman, and Switzerland. That brings the total out-of-country days for President Clinton, the Traveler-in-Chief, to 212. He's racked up visits to 66 countries -- some more than once -- and 2 territories not recognized as countries. He is, by any measure, the most traveled U.S. president ever.
And just how much is this latest foray estimated to cost the American taxpayer? ABC News, apparently relying on unnamed Pentagon sources, has reported a price tag: a cool $50 million -- the "most expensive overseas trip ever taken by a president," as they put it during the March 23 broadcast of World News Tonight. And because the newscast did not fully identify the costs, it is unclear if this estimate includes only military costs - or even only Air Force costs.
Meanwhile, Air Force Times also pegged the cost at $50 million [3/27/00], implying this figure reflects Air Force costs alone. The article also identifies the numbers and types of aircraft dedicated to the trip: 14 C-17 Globemaster IIIs; 12 C-5 Galaxys, 3 C-141 Starlifters; and 2 C-130 Hercules. In addition, 7 KC-10 Extenders and 39 KC-135 Stratotankers were to deploy. The return mission was to require the same types and numbers of assets with some exceptions, but to include an additional 10 Galaxys and 3 more Stratotankers.
ABC News' John McWethy, while traveling with the President -- who was accompanied by daughter Chelsea and his mother-in-law -- on the recent trip to South Asia, reported that:
"Ninety percent of the costs [cited by the World News Tonight anchor at $50 million] are for airplanes, drawn from an Air Force that is already stressed meeting military and humanitarian commitments overseas. When a President travels, all the public ever sees is Air Force One, but consider this: Seventy-seven other Air Force planes are being used on this one trip, including 26 of the biggest transports, C-5s and C-17s" [Emphasis added].
And just how much of our Air Force's assets does this represent? McWethy continued, "Military sources say that represents more than one-third of the Air Force's entire inventory of these planes that are ready to fly on any given day." As an interesting comparison, the U.S. Air Force has used only about a dozen planes to execute the most recent humanitarian relief effort to Mozambique -- where millions of lives were at stake, according to the same newscast.
The Marines also were called in to support this jaunt, as noted by the Washington Times on March 24:
"The U.S. military sent 10 CH-53 helicopters to India and Pakistan to support President Clinton's ongoing road trip. The large helicopters flew from the Marine Corps base at Kanehoe Bay, Hawaii, to ferry Mr. Clinton, daughter Chelsea and other friends of Bill.
"The helos arrived via giant U.S. Air Force C-5 transport aircraft. In addition, the Marines dispatched about 100 troops for air crews and support."
It is unclear whether ABC's or Air Force Times' estimate included the costs of these helicopters flown in from Hawaii, which - according to the General Accounting Office (GAO), the official auditor for Congress - cost $3,658 per hour to operate.
Pentagon Typically Pays for Large Portion of President's Overseas Trips
Previous investigations into President Clinton's travel record have found that a significant share of the cost of overseas trips comes out of the Pentagon's budget -- which the Clinton/Gore Administration has underfunded year after year. For instance, last year the GAO found that President Clinton's three trips in 1998 to Chile, China, and Africa alone cost a total of $72 million -- of which $60.5 million, or 84 percent, came out of the U.S. defense budget. And these figures include only incremental costs to the government, expressly excluding such ongoing expenses as payroll.
But the price tag is only one factor. Equally important is that these trips also tax our already stressed military assets, consistently deployed on far-flung, non-traditional military missions by this administration. Again, looking back to last year, one newspaper reported the President's travels throughout Africa required the Air Force to cancel or refuse 26 air missions that it would have flown in its regular duties, and postpone 30 others [St. Louis Post Dispatch, 1/10/99]. For the President's most recent excursion, so much of the Air Force's fleet was dedicated to the President's entourage that the Air Mobility Command was forced to send out "regrets" to other officials requesting aircraft [Air Force Times, 3/27/00].
The Air Force reportedly was to dedicate about 460 flying missions to the recent South Asia trip [Air Force Times, 3/27/00]. Compare that to the President's very costly 12-day trip to Africa in 1998 when the military flew 214 missions, as documented by GAO.
Security Costs Are Over and Above Transportation and Logistical Costs
In its extensive review last year, the GAO expressly did not include costs related to assuring the President's security. Secret Service costs, for example, are classified. And, so likely such costs are not included in the estimate recently cited by ABC News and Air Force Times. But, clearly there are additional costs, especially when traveling to such countries as Pakistan. The logistics for the President's arrival in Islamabad, Pakistan alone are mind-boggling. The Washington Post [3/26/00] reported the extraordinary measures taken to ensure the President's safety:
"In Pakistan, the officially marked plane landed first and taxied to the welcoming spot in front of journalists, and, as cameras clicked and whirred, several men in suits got off. The first, a large man with thick gray hair, bore a resemblance to Clinton but was actually a Secret Service agent.
"Suddenly, the unmarked plane approached the airport -- from the opposite direction from which the marked plane had come -- and made a swift, low landing. Before Clinton disembarked, a large black limousine pulled between him and the platform of journalists."
This example is merely illustrative of the security measures required for this one stop on this trip, and is not meant to criticize the need to ensure the President's safety during overseas travels.
It's a Privilege, Not a Perk
No one disputes the need for the President of the United States, as the leader of the free world, to travel overseas. However, Clinton as the most traveled President ever, who is spending extraordinary sums of limited defense dollars in the process, appears to consider these events as one long road trip, rather than an executive privilege. Recall the White House's Joe Lockhart noting to the press corps last fall that Panama was among the few nations Clinton had not visited, but then cavalierly remarked, "There are a few places still left on the list he hasn't been, and we have 15 months to rectify that" [Federal News Service: White House briefing, 10/19/99]. Given his track record, we expect they will.
By Paul M. Weyrich
December 5, 2002
Bill Clinton is back where he wants to be -- in the news; no doubt intent on developing a post-presidential image as one who is a far-sighted, wise First Citizen. This Tuesday, he took it upon himself to dispense advice to his party at the annual meeting of the Democratic Leadership Conference.
Clinton told the DLC that his party had a "heavy responsibility to cooperate in uniting this country on security issues." Certainly, any desire that Democrats have to display true bi-partisanship by working with President Bush on improving our national security will be welcomed at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, but I think we must see it occur before we can really believe it to be a sincere sentiment. Just think about how the Senate Democrats were willing to tie up the legislation establishing the Department of Homeland Security because they did not want to grant President Bush and the Administration flexibility in terms of administrative matters. The Democrats did this simply to please the unions representing government workers. It does not follow that what is good for the Democrat Party's coffers is good for our national defense.
There's a whole side to the Clinton legacy on national defense that should not be forgotten, and I am not talking about his disgraceful effort to avoid serving his country in uniform during the Vietnam War. That is well-known and makes many military veterans turn red with anger whenever they think about how someone like Bill Clinton was ordering American troops into conflicts to brave the bullets that he once tried so hard to avoid. Clinton demonstrated that their distrust and anger was well-placed by his actions in office. Not only did he demonstrate his lack of character; he also demonstrated his lack of concern about our nation's armed forces. His short-changing our national security represents his legacy too.
Recall, if you will, how Clinton's constant travels that took a big chunk out of the Pentagon's budget?
Thanks to the work of the Senate Republican Policy Committee, the actual tab of Bill Clinton's globetrotting is not just buried away in government reports and microfilm boxes of old newspapers, and on tapes of old TV newscasts. It's all there in an easily readable form on the SRPC's website. In March 2000, the President, with Chelsea and his mother-in-law, took a trip to Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Oman, and Switzerland. The SRPC noted that both ABC News' World News Tonight and the Air Force Times estimated the cost of the trip at $50 million, a record for the cost of an overseas trip by a president. Used on the trip were 14 C-17 Globemaster IIIs, 12 C-5 Galaxys, 3 C-141 Starlifters, and 2 C-130 Hercules. A large number of other Air Force planes were to deploy.ABC News' John McWethy filed this report:
"Ninety percent of the costs [cited by the World New Tonight anchor at $50 million] are for airplanes, drawn from an Air Force that is already stressed meeting military and humanitarian commitments overseas. When a President travels, all the public ever sees is Air Force One, but consider this: Seventy-seven other Air Force planes are being used on this one trip, including 26 of the biggest transports, C-5s and C-17s."
"Military sources say that represents more than one-third of the Air Force's entire inventory of these planes that are ready to fly on any given day."
When the President took trips in 1998 to Chile, China, and Africa, the tab came to $72 million. Over sixty million came from the defense budget.
One could argue that Bill Clinton's trips were related to official business. But it appears that what he really wanted to do was to take his own taxpayer-funded Cook's World Tour at the expense of the Pentagon budget. Clinton press secretary Joe Lockhart said at a White House press briefing on October 19, 1999 that his boss had yet to visit Panama, then added: "There are a few places still left on the list he hasn't been, and we have 15 months to rectify that." If the defense budget was not so parched back then, then Bill Clinton's trips might not be an issue.
But people forget that we nearly ran out of smart bombs in Kosovo. The money that Bill Clinton took from the defense budget for his 1998 trips to Chile, China, and Africa could have purchased 3,000 smart bombs. Senator Jim Inhofe (R-OK) is as strong an advocate for military readiness as he is a tough critic of the Clinton legacy of negligence on national security. A simple chart that he uses shows the true Clinton legacy. If defense spending had kept pace with inflation during his years in office, the budget would have reached well over $300 billion during FY 2001. Instead, the defense budget in real spending dollars during his years in office falls consistently below the budget level of approximately $270 billion (measured in real spending dollars) that he inherited in 1993. Bill was a consistent opponent of missile defense, and did nothing of consequence when weapons inspectors were ejected by Iraq, or to prevent missile and weapons technology transfers by Red China to such bad boy nations as North Korea, Iran, and Iraq.
And it may take some effort by Americans to recall that it was President Clinton who told the nation in a televised address in August 1998 that we needed to take on the bin Laden terrorist network. He ordered strikes against terrorist-related facilities after attacks on U.S. embassies.
"We will not yield to this threat," he proclaimed. But coming at the height of the controversy over Monica Lewinsky, the news media thought his actions resembled the scripting of the movie "Wag the Dog," staging military action to deflect attention from his personal problems at home. In retrospect, they were right because Bill's record on confronting terrorism -- or rather, his lack of one -- since that address, makes one wonder just how sincere and comprehending he was about the true threat of terrorism. Don't forget the attack on the USS Cole occurred two years after that address. Bill fired back words at our enemy, but failed to back up his talk with the only thing they would respect: real force. Perhaps Bill just lacked the "strength, courage, and endurance" to take real, hard-hitting action against our enemy. Those were the very qualities that Clinton said would be needed for our country to prevail over al-Qaeda.
Bill Clinton failed to take seriously one of his most important duties as defined by the Constitution; serving as the Commander-in-Chief of our armed forces. We became a softer, weaker nation under Bill Clinton's leadership. We had prosperity, but Bill Clinton failed to spend our money wisely, neglecting to provide the funds needed to upgrade our armed forces and improve our intelligence capabilities.
Bill Clinton is pinning his hopes on Americans having incomplete memories. He wants us to remember the good times, associating the prosperity of the late 1990s with the handiwork of his Administration. However, the farther we move away from the days that Bill, Hillary and the whole gang of Clintonistas were in the White House, the more apparent the glaring deficiencies in his record become, particularly on national security.
It would be nice to think that Bill Clinton has finally come to recognize the true importance of national defense. But the question remains: Why was he AWOL so often on issues involving national defense during his presidency? Maybe it's because he was so busy taking trips at the expense of our armed forces when not fighting to save his own skin from an enraged Congress during his scandal-ridden presidency.
[NOTE: For details, see RPC's "Clinton Foreign Travel: Excessive or Abusive??" 9/21/99, and "Three Trips, Eight Countries, 2,400 People -- and a $60 Million Pentagon Tab," 9/22/99.]
Bill Clinton holds the all-time record for presidential foreign travel -- 186 days abroad to 59 different countries since January 1993.
At the request of RPC Chairman Craig and Senators Sessions and Thomas, the General Accounting Office (GAO) examined just three of Clinton's many trips, to Chile, China, and Africa in 1998, and found:
That year alone, Clinton traveled to 17 different countries (but the detailed costs for the other nine are not available).
Even worse, the largest share of Clinton's excessive globetrotting cost came at the expense of American defense readiness:
-- As an example: the $60.5 million spent on Clinton's trips could have purchased 3,000 smart bombs -- the kind we nearly ran out of in Kosovo.
-- It costs $34,400 an hour to fly the president himself.
-- These costs also do not include the salaries of military or other personnel.
[Charts detailing Clinton's travel record available from RPC.]
"Senator calls Clinton travel costs 'excessive' By JANET MOORE/CNN September 21, 1999 Web posted at: 5:48 p.m. EDT (2148 GMT)
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A Republican senator Tuesday said taxpayers are being taken for a ride over President Clinton's travel expenses.
Referring to a newly released General Accounting Office Report, Sen. Larry Craig of Idaho called the extent of the president's travels not only "excessive" but "almost abusive."
The report detailed the cost of President Clinton's 1998 trips to Africa, Chile and China. The study reports these trips cost at least $42.8 million, $10.5 million and $18.8 million, respectively. The White House defended the trips and said the "president believes that it is money well spent."
Craig said Clinton holds the all-time record for presidential travel -- 186 days abroad to 59 different countries, averaging 27.6 days of overseas travel per year.
"A large share of the money used to pay for these trips comes out of our national defense readiness, which the president has cut to the bone," Craig said.
White House Press Secretary Joe Lockhart said there are unique costs the U.S. president faces wherever he goes to maintain his physical security and to provide communications that allow him "to handle any crisis".
Calling Craig a "prolific" traveler, Lockhart added that "we know how to manage money" -- and pointed to budget surpluses the United States has had in the last two fiscal years."
There never has and never will be a complete GAO accounting for Clinton's overseas trips. The GAO admitts it's impossible to calculate exactly how much Clinton's "friends and family" overseas trips cost.