A record-breaking 47.8 million Americans are on food stamps, an increase of about 1.3 million from a year earlier. The official unemployment rate is 7.7 percent, a number that obscures the reality that millions of Americans who have given up looking for work aren't counted, and that the labor force participation rate of 63.6 percent measured in December 2012, is the lowest in 32 years. The national debt is $16.7 trillion and growing. White House tours have been cancelled due to sequestration. And amidst it all, Barack Obama and his family have taken four lavish vacations in three months.
Every president deserves time off. Yet the unabashed luxuriousness of the Obamas' lifestyle reflects a genuine tone-deafness with regard to the pressing concerns of millions of Americans, as well as the president’s priorities. Even as he blamed sequestration for the decision to cancel White House tours that would have cost a total of $2 million for the rest of the year, it was revealed that the known cost of Obama's Christmas vacation in Hawaii last year was at least $4 million. That vacation was also the fourth one taken in Hawaii in four years, three of which involved separate flights First Lady Michelle Obama took to get there ahead of her husband. This year's separate flight, necessitated by the president's trip back to Washington to complete the fiscal cliff deal before returning to Honolulu, cost taxpayers an additional $3.24, and ran the total tab for the 2012-13 trip to more than $7 million.
The total for the four trips combined? More than $20 million.
However, holiday vacations to Hawaii hardly scratch the surface. These vacations were also interspersed with trips to locales like Florida or Southern California. In addition, the president's "mini-vacations" have raised eyebrows. His three-day golf outing at an exclusive club in Florida, where he was joined by Tiger Woods, occurred less than two weeks before the sequester kicked in -- even as the White House Blog raised the specter of "harmful automatic cuts" that are "threatening hundreds of thousands of jobs, and cutting vital services for children, seniors, people with mental illness and our men and women in uniform."
Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) put that trip in perspective, noting that it cost American taxpayers “over a million dollars,” which was “enough money to save 341 federal workers from furlough.” The rest of the family was on vacation in Colorado at the time, meaning taxpayers are billed for yet another separate use of Air Force One, which costs approximately $180,000 an hour to use. This marks the fourth Colorado ski vacation in four years for the First Lady and and her daughters, Malia and Sasha. Judicial Watch confirmed that the cost of 2012 trip, including U.S. Secret Service costs, as well as accommodations at the Fasching Haus deluxe condominium and the Inn at Aspen, totaled $48,950.38.
Speaking of Malia and Sasha, Breitbart News reports they are currently on spring break in the Bahamas at the exclusive Atlantis resort on Paradise Island, a story neither the White House or Atlantis would confirm. At this time it is unclear how much this trip will cost taxpayers, but Judicial Watch confirmed that last years' trip to Mexico by Malia, accompanied by 25 U.S. Secret Service Agents and as many as 12 of her friends, cost taxpayers $115,500.87.
And then there is Martha's Vineyard. Politico is reporting that the First Family will be going back there for the second time in three years, for the "traditional Vineyard vacation" the president was forced to skip last year when he was campaigning for reelection. In 2011, Obama and his family spent eleven days at a $50,000-per-week beachfront rental property. At the time US News & World Report noted that while the president is picking up the tab for the rental, the title of the article reminded Americans that there are far more expenses -- borne by the taxpayer -- associated with such a trip: "Obama's Vineyard Vacation Will Cost Taxpayers Millions," it stated.
Former Clinton spokesman Mike McCurry dismissed critics of that vacation. "I think all this 'Why is he taking a vacation?' stuff is ginned up by the media," he said. "I don't think any American will fault him for getting away, especially if he comes back with some fresh ideas on how to create jobs."
Four days ago, Planet Money reporter Chana Joffe-Walt illuminated the Obama administration's "success" in that regard. “Since the economy began its slow, slow recovery in late 2009, we’ve been averaging about 150,000 jobs created per month,” he said during a Public Radio International (PRI) interview. “In that same period every month, almost 250,000 people have been applying for disability.”
Again, no one is denying that vacations are a necessary component of the First Family’s life. Yet it is a bit more than ironic that the same media who roundly criticized former president George W. Bush for what amounted to a series of working vacations at his own ranch in Crawford, Texas, is conspicuously uninterested in the lavish nature of the current president's sojourns. That silence becomes even more curious when, unlike his predecessor, Obama has constantly railed about the need for "shared sacrifice," the "deeply destructive" nature of the sequester, and in one of the more recent of many his many class warfare rants, bashed Republicans for favoring "jet owners over teacher jobs"--even as he and his family have often doubled down on the use of Air Force One to arrive in the same place at different times.
In fact, the only thing that has seemingly upset the media about Obama's excess was their lack of access during his get together with Tiger Woods. Ed Henry head of the White House Correspondents Association was particularly incensed. "We're not interested in violating the president's privacy. He's entitled to vacations like everyone else. All we're asking for is a brief exception, quick access, a quick photo-op on the 18th green," Henry complained. "It's not about golf--it's about transparency and access in a broader sense." That would be the same media that both criticized Bush for golfing, and ridiculed him when he gave it up because he thought it sent the wrong message to families grieving over soldiers who lost their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan.
When a member of the White House press corps recently brought up a question about the cost of the president's outing with Woods, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney was clearly agitated. "John, you're trivializing an impact here," Carney said, before getting back to the administration's talking points about the sequester and its devastating effects on ordinary Americans.
Yet it is precisely those talking points that are completely at odds with the First Family's lifestyle. As many Americans continue to cope with the weakest recovery on record, it would be nice to think the president might demonstrate some sensitivity to their ongoing plight or at least make a minimal effort at limiting the stunning bill they have left the taxpayer with. With regard to that reality, there are plenty of places Obama and his family could enjoy both down-time and privacy that would cost far less taxpayer money at a time when the economy remains exceedingly fragile -- and president is allegedly concerned about every dollar in reduced spending that has been engendered by the sequester. Instead, Americans are witnessing the kind of self-indulgence that puts an exclamation point on the "do as I say, not as I do" hypocrisy that afflicts so many progressives who express their "solidarity" with "ordinary Americans" even as that solidarity amounts to little more than lip service.
When the Obamas enjoy yet another lavish vacation at Martha's Vineyard this coming August -- accompanied by a taxpayer-funded entourage that includes dozens of Secret Service agents, communications officials, aides, chauffeurs, U.S. Coast Guard personnel, a presidential helicopter, a jet, and armored SUVs to transport the First Family around the island -- perhaps the president will take a moment or two to reflect on the reality that millions of Americans, due in large part to the Obama administration’s woeful economic policies, won't be taking any vacations at all.
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