Inaugural price tag in line with history

Reuters news agency this week headlined a story, “Critics Say Bush Inaugural Too Lavish for Wartime,” then quoted one “critic,” Rep. Anthony Weiner, New York Democrat, who complained that the estimated $40 million for the Bush-Cheney inauguration is extravagant.

The Associated Press moved a story that asked, “With that kind of money, what could you buy?” The answer, the wire service said: “200 armored Humvees … vaccinations and preventive health care for 22 million children … and a down payment on the nation’s deficit.”

But a review of the cost for past inaugurations shows Mr. Bush’s will cost less than President Clinton’s second inauguration in 1997, which cost about $42 million. When the cost is adjusted for inflation, Mr. Clinton’s second-term celebration exceeds Mr. Bush’s by about 25 percent.

According to the Consumer Price Index, $42 million in 1997 is the equivalent of $49.5 in 2004.

The significant majority of funding for this year’s festivities, including nine officials balls, are from private donations and tickets for events held by the Presidential Inaugural Committee, a similar setup to fund raising Mr. Clinton used to underwrite his inauguration. Mr. Clinton had a record 12 balls in 1997.

A Jan. 20, 1997, story by USA Today estimated about $12.7 million of Mr. Clinton’s inauguration was financed by U.S. taxpayers. Initial estimates indicate the District will foot about $17 million in security costs this year.

“Every inaugural, there’s a really good reason given why you should spend whatever donors are sending in on something else,” Rich Galen, a veteran Republican activist, told the Associated Press, saying many of the complaints come from the losers of the election.

Mr. Weiner and Rep. Jim McDermott, Washington Democrat, in a letter to President Bush said that a celebration during the war on terror is inappropriate and the money could be better spent, saying the funds could be used pay for 690 Humvees and a $290 bonus for each soldier serving in Iraq.

“Precedent suggests that inaugural festivities should be muted — if not canceled — in wartime,” said the letter, which cited President Roosevelt’s scaled back inauguration in 1945 that had a menu of cold chicken salad and pound cake.

Tracey Schmitt, a spokeswoman for the Presidential Inaugural Committee, and White House officials say the inauguration is an American tradition that transcends partisan politics and is a symbol to the world.

President Johnson didn’t eschew pageantry in 1965, racking up a $1.6 million bill for inaugural festivities despite the Vietnam War, historian Robert Dallek told Reuters.

In 1997, there was grumbling that the inauguration cost too much. But Clinton spokesman Barry Toiv said at the time, “It’s really a symbol to the world and has been for over 200 years, and it’s worth celebrating.”

This year, the inaugural committee has taken a similar tact, dubbing the events “Celebrating Freedom, Honoring Service.”

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