Travels of the President Under a Microscope in an Era of Belt Tightening
CHICAGO ― Perhaps it is nothing more than an accident of timing that as federal workers brace for a summer filled with unpaid furlough days, their leaders are traveling the nation and globe on trips that exude luxury.
Last week, President Obama left the White House for two Chicago fund-raisers in the hope of helping Democrats retake the House in next year’s elections. The cost of flying aboard Air Force One to his hometown: $180,000 per hour.
The same day the first lady, Michelle Obama, traveled to Massachusetts to lunch with rich donors who had paid up to $37,600 per ticket at the Taj Boston Hotel. The meal included roasted Chilean sea bass with a fricassee of asparagus. Meanwhile, Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and his wife, Jill, were in Rio de Janeiro, part of a six-day swing through Latin America to discuss trade and investment, including a stop in Trinidad and Tobago.
For a leader presiding over automatic budget cuts and a slow-moving economic recovery, there are growing political costs to presidential travel. Every move a president makes costs money, and in an era when money is in short supply, that means heightened scrutiny. Vacations are especially touchy.
“The president is asking the people to sacrifice but never himself,” Representative Chris Stewart, Republican of Utah, said when he introduced a resolution this year asking Mr. Obama to forgo vacations to pay for resuming White House tours cut because of the automatic budget cuts, known as the sequester. “We don’t have a problem with him taking vacations, but it seems petty to close the White House to tours when forgoing one or two out-of-town vacations would easily pay for the cost of keeping it open.”
Bob Dole, the former Republican senator from Kansas, was more blunt when asked generally about Mr. Obama’s travels in a rare interview on “Fox News Sunday” last week. “He’s on the road too much,” Mr. Dole said.
Almost by definition, Mr. Obama lives a life foreign to most Americans, with the big white house and the ushers and chefs and the airplane fueled and ready to go. When he wants a weekend away, he can fly to Florida to golf with Tiger Woods. When his daughters take spring break, they head to Aspen to ski. He winters in Hawaii and summers on Martha’s Vineyard.
But this summer’s trips come as federal employees are tightening their belts. Last month, four federal agencies closed down ― the Environmental Protection Agency, the Internal Revenue Service, the Department of Housing and Urban Development and even the Office of Management and Budget ― as employees were ordered to take the first of several unpaid days off.
Many workers are canceling summer vacations of their own. Across the government, cutbacks are everywhere. The Blue Angels did not fly at the Naval Academy commencement, Head Start programs are turning away children and there are no summer jobs for college students to cut the grass at Antietam.
In a nod to the pain that federal employees are feeling, Mr. Obama in April announced that he would cut his salary by $20,000.
Despite that gesture of solidarity, the president’s official and political trips still generate second-guessing. This summer he plans a diplomatic foray to Africa that will cost millions of dollars and invariably involve an entourage of hundreds of security, communications, military and technical personnel, just as it did when George W. Bush and Bill Clinton went. White House officials said they are not deterred by fear of criticism, although some said the president would probably avoid safari time.
同一天，第一夫人米歇尔?奥巴马 (Michelle Obama)前往马萨诸塞州，与持单价3.76万美元入场券的富豪捐赠者们在波士顿泰姬陵酒店(Taj Boston Hotel) 共进午餐。午餐包括烤智利海鲈鱼及白汁芦笋肉。同时，副总统小约瑟夫?R?拜登及其夫人吉尔(Jill)在里约热内卢。他们将用六天时间在拉美几个国家探 讨贸易及投资问题，特立尼达拉及多巴哥也是其中一站。
犹他州共和党众议员克里斯?斯图尔特 (Chris Stewart)今年曾提出一项提议说，奥巴马应该放弃一些休假，从而恢复因自动预算削减，即所谓“自动减支”(sequester)而削 减的白宫参观项目。他说，“总统在要求民众做出牺牲，但自己从来不做什么。我们不是介意他度假，而是说，如果放弃一两次休假就能轻松支付白宫向游客开放的 花费，不这么做就显得小气了。”
前堪萨斯州参议员鲍勃?多尔(Bob Dole)的措辞就更加尖锐了，上周在《福克斯周日新闻》(Fox News Sunday)上罕见接受采访时，他被笼统地问到奥巴马的出行，多尔说，“他出行过于频繁。”
奥巴马的生活与多数美国人有本质不同。他住在雄伟的白宫 里，有门房，有厨师。飞机加满了油随时就能起飞。当他想要出去度周末，他就能飞去佛罗里达跟泰格?伍兹(Tiger Woods)打高尔夫球。他的女儿们 放了春假，他们就去阿斯彭滑雪。他在夏威夷过冬，在玛莎葡萄园岛(Martha’s Vineyard)消夏。
但是，今夏的总统出行，恰逢联邦公务员正在节俭度日。上 月，四家联邦机构关闭，雇员被要求先休几天无薪假期。这些机构是，环境保护署(Environmental Protection Agency)、国内 收入署(Internal Revenue Service)、住房和城市发展部 (Department of Housing and Urban Development)，甚至还有管理与预算办公室 (Office of Management and Budget)。
许多雇员都取消了自己的暑期出行计划。整个政府都在减少支 出。在海军学院(Naval Academy)的毕业典礼上，蓝天使特技飞行队(The Blue Angels)不再表演;启智学前教育计划 (Head Start)正在拒收学生，而且安铁顿也没有让大学生除草的暑假工作。
尽管有这样一种共度难关的姿态，但总统的公务出行和政治访 问依然会在事后受到指责。今年夏天，他计划对非洲进行外交访问，非洲之行将耗资数百万美元，而且必定会有数百名安保、通信、军事和技术人员陪同，就和乔 治?W?布什(George W. Bush)和比尔?克林顿(Bill Clinton)当年去非洲一样。白宫的官员称他们不会因害怕受到批评而被吓到，不过一些人表示，总统可能不会安排狩猎的时间。