In another odd twist left unexamined by the media, the White House on Monday said it simply would not release the cost of President Obama's weekend jaunt to New York City, where the First Couple had dinner and caught a Broadway show.
Spokesman Robert Gibbs, keeping the White House press corps in stiches, as he always does, said the Obamas would have preferred using a commercial airline shuttle to New York and back, but the Secret Service would not allow such unprotected travel (ba da bing).
And that was that. No further probing; asked and answered; time to move on.
There was, of course, an ironic element of the trip. In February, Obama scolded corporate executives (while also costing Las Vegas some $130 million) when he said: "You can't get corporate jets. You can't go take a trip to Las Vegas, or go down to the Super Bowl on the taxpayers' dime."
But the Chief Executive (Oval) Officer had made a promise to his good wife that after the campaign, they'd take in a Broadway show, and darn it, he meant to keep that promise.
One early estimate (from the New York Post) put the cost at $24,000. Absurdly low. The Daily Mail in London threw out another number — $75,000. Sure, three times as much as the first estimate, but still probably spectacularly low. Remember, joyriding Air Force One around for a few hours over Manhattan a couple months ago cost $250,000, so the cost of the weekend trip was likely not likely that low.
With the White House simply refusing to say how much taxpayer money it spent, here's a helpful way to calculate the cost of the trip:
First, the First Couple (and entourage) flew from the White House to Andrews Air Force Base — three choppers (two decoys), if the Marines stuck to standard operating procedure (and they are sticklers for SOP). That means dozens of men and women — radar, communications, mechanics, crews, everyone, perhaps 100, who knows? — were involved. (A batch of tagalongs must've taken a taxpayer pool of vehicles out from the White House to AAFB, since it took three jets to get the gang to NYC).
Second, the president moving on a Saturday takes a full operation at and around the White House, dozens and dozens of people. Maybe they're all on salary, so that didn't likely cost much. But all the cops involved — D.C. police, uniformed Secret Service officers, Capitol police — were probably paid overtime, even double time. Probably, again, 100 personnel or so.
Then there were the jets — at least $24,000 for the three aircraft used to ferry the Obamas, aides and reporters to New York. The Obamas' jet, a Gulfstream 500, served as Air Force One.
Third, a C-17 had to fly to NYC to put in place a full motorcade (at least a dozen vehicles, maybe more). The military cargo plane may have taken up at least two, but maybe three, more choppers to fly the whole party from JFK to a Wall Street landing zone, where the motorcade was waiting. If not, the choppers flew there solo (White House veteran reporter Mark Knoller of CBS Radio wrote recently that "The VH-3D that serves as Marine One consumes about 1,200 pounds of fuel per hour." Ouch.
Fourth, driving through Manhattan is an expensive exercise. Dozens, perhaps hundreds, of NYPD have to be stationed all along the way, shutting down roads, holding back pedestrians. There were police cars involved, dozens of motorcycles, and the ever-present NYC ambulance (oh, don't forget that the White House doctor also probably went — with all his gear). The city likely gets reimbursed by the White House for the cost (they usually do). And they were all probably getting time and a half (the NYPD overtime budget is extraordinary).
Fifth, the United States Secret Service (USSS) had to scope out the whole thing, then station agents all over — sharpshooters, undercover agents, etc. — at a huge cost. Who knows if they were on overtime. And if you think they went up Saturday morning, think again. They were likely in NYC upwards of a week before, planning the whole evening, every second of every movement. They had to map out five movements — from JFK to the Wall Street LZ, then a motorcade to the restaurant, then another motorcade to the play, then a final motorcade back to the LZ, then a chopper flight to JFK, before the First Couple and crew jetted back to AAFB for another chopper to the White House.
One thing is known — The Obamas picked up the cost of dinner costs and their orchestra seat tickets, which cost $96.50 a piece. So if the whole thing cost $250,000, the Obamas offset that by at least a few hundred bucks. Phew.