President Obama is under fire for the price of the first family’s upcoming weeklong trip to Africa, which could cost taxpayers as much as $100 million at a time of federal budget cuts and furloughs.
The Obamas’ trip will take them to Senegal, Tanzania and South Africa from June 26 to July 3. The excursion will involve military cargo planes airlifting 56 support vehicles, including 14 limousines, and three trucks to carry bulletproof glass panels to cover the windows where the family is set to stay.
One estimate of the cost has pegged the bill to U.S. taxpayers at somewhere between $60 million and $100 million.
A House lawmaker said rather than spend $100 million on a trip to Africa, the administration should instead fund public tours of the White House that were canceled under the “sequestration” budget cuts.
“For the cost of this trip to Africa, you could have 1,350 weeks of White House tours, which the White House has canceled indefinitely due to budget constraints,” Rep. George Holding, North Carolina Republican, said on the House floor Friday.
Mr. Holding said with the country more than $16 trillion in debt, the administration should not be spending so much money on an eight-day visit to Africa.
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“It is no secret that we need to rein in government spending, and the Obama administration has regularly and repeatedly shown a lack of judgment for when and where to make cuts,” Mr. Holding said. “The numbers don’t lie: Either the administration is bad at math, or they simply don’t see a problem with their excessive spending. The American people have had enough of the frivolous and careless spending, and they deserve real, appropriate cuts from this excessive administration.”
The White House defended the trip Friday as “great bang for our buck.”
“There will be a great bang for our buck for being in Africa because when you travel to regions like Africa that don’t get a lot of presidential attention, you tend to have very long-standing and long-running impact from the visit,” said Ben Rhodes, a deputy national security adviser to Mr. Obama.
The trip also will involve an aircraft carrier or amphibious ship with a fully staffed medical trauma center to be stationed offshore in case of an emergency. Fighter jets will fly in shifts to provide around-the-clock protection over the president’s airspace. The trip reportedly will involve hundreds of Secret Service agents.
The president and first lady Michelle Obama also had planned to take a safari in Tanzania, which reportedly would have required a special counterassault team to carry sniper rifles in the event of a threat from wild animals. But the safari was canceled in favor of a trip to Robben Island off the coast of Cape Town, South Africa, where Nelson Mandela was held as a political prisoner for 18 of his 27 years behind bars.
The projected cost of the trip was first reported by The Washington Post, citing a confidential administration planning document.
Mr. Rhodes said Mr. Obama already has traveled extensively to Asia and to Latin America, and he said some people think the president’s trip to Africa “is overdue.”
“Africa’s a critically important region of the world,” he said. “This is a deeply substantive trip and one that has been highly anticipated on the continent. And, frankly, there’s been great disappointment that the president hasn’t traveled to Africa until this point, other than a brief stop in Ghana.”
Presidential travel is expensive; the cost of operating Air Force One is about $180,000 per flight hour. President Clinton’s trip to Africa in 1998 cost about $42.8 million. President George W. Bush made two trips to Africa during his two terms, although cost estimates aren’t available for those visits.
Mr. Obama is expected to spend part of the trip emphasizing the importance of global health programs, including HIV/AIDS prevention.
“We have huge interests there,” Mr. Rhodes said. “You’ve got some of the fastest-growing economies in Africa. You’ve got a massively growing youth population. You’ve got key security and counterterrorism issues that we work on with African countries.”