Inside the Beltway: The six-million dollar traveling president

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It is an intense itinerary: President Obama is currently on an overseas excursion that takes him to five foreign nations in five days. That adds up to about 29 hours of flying time aboard the magnificent but pricey Air Force One, which now costs $228,288 an hour to operate, up from about $179,750 in recent years. So say the meticulous watchdogs at the National Taxpayers Union Foundation, who figure the total of this particular jaunt to be $6,620,352. Yes, those are taxpayer dollars.

But the organization also notes that Mr. Obama has emerged as the most traveled of the recent presidents: He has taken 31 international trips during his five years in office. In a comparable amount of time, President George W. Bush took 28 trips, Bill Clinton 27, Ronald Reagan 14 and Richard Nixon 12.

“While these figures are approximations, and do not account for the additional (and likely greater) expenses of transporting the president’s Secret Service and diplomatic entourage, backup aircraft, land vehicles, and advance security teams, it goes to show that higher Air Force One operational costs substantially change the budgetary magnitude of these trips,” the foundation concludes in its analysis.

THE HOBBY LOBBY’S LOBBY

It could be a noisy Tuesday. As the Supreme Court hears oral arguments in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Sebelius, the Tea Party Patriots will “stand for the First Amendment” in front of the nation’s highest court for five hours, whatever the weather, the grassroots group says. They are keenly interested in the trajectory of the Obamacare mandate requiring businesses to pay for birth control in their employee health plans.

Lawmakers will also take a stand outside the U.S. Capitol: Republican Reps. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, Diane Black and Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, Vicky Hartzler of Missouri, Virginia Foxx of North Carolina, Kevin Brady of Texas, James Lankford of Oklahoma, Joe Pitts of Pennsylvania and Steve Scalise of Lousiana. They will gather at high noon, and a press conference will follow.

And the Hobby Lobby? The Oklahoma-based arts and crafts concern which operates 602 stores calls the mandate “unfair, unjust and unacceptable.”

The opposition will also be on hand, however. Some 40 organizations will host a “Not My Boss’s Business” rally at the Supreme Court as well. Among the groups: Planned Parenthood Action Fund, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, American Civil Liberties Union, National Women’s Law Center, and NARAL Pro-Choice America supporters.

A SIGNATURE ISSUE

For those who wonder: the recent White House petition organized by Budweiser to declare Major League Baseball’s opening day a national holiday has more than 101,000 signatures. This means it has earned an official White House response as part of the “We the People” program, which guarantees an answer if the online petition tops 100,000 signatures in a month.

There are already 13 other petitions boasting such a response though, including one to pardon Edward Snowden and another that supports mandatory labeling of genetically engineered foods. And the petition with the most signatures? That would be the plea to deport performer Justin Bieber and revoke his Green Card — which now has close to 271,000 signatures.

HERE COMES THE STORM

Behold, here are some climate change scientists who say global warming is actually good for flora and fauna — even polar bears. “Climate Change Reconsidered” debuts next month at the National Press Club — described as a “massive” report which plumbed thousands of neglected research papers to reveal that the benefits of global warming “greatly exceed any plausible estimate of its costs.”

Uh-oh. Don’t tell Al Gore.

Among many things, the researchers contend that higher levels of carbon dioxide and warmer temperatures actually benefit nearly all plants, which grow and produce more, and are more disease-resistant.

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