Obama's Asia trip expensive, but not as pricey as some say

McClatchy NewspapersNovember 5, 2010 

WASHINGTON — The conservative blogosphere and media megaphones are trumpeting "news" that President Barack Obama's trip to India will cost U.S. taxpayers $200 million a day, but there's no basis in fact for the reports, and history suggests that they're false.

First, the source of the report: an unidentified Indian government official. The Press Trust of India, a news agency, reported this week that Obama's three-day trip to India would cost $200 million a day and include 3,000 people.

" 'The huge amount of around $200 million would be spent on security, stay and other aspects of the presidential visit,' a top official of the Maharashtra Government privy to the arrangements for the high-profile visit said," according to the news agency.

The report was posted prominently on the conservative website Drudge Report. Conservative bloggers such as Michelle Malkin posted it without question. Conservative commentator Glenn Beck multiplied it for the rest of Obama's four-country trip, saying it will cost taxpayers $2 billion. And on and on.

The Indian news organization also reported that the U.S. was sending 34 warships to protect Obama.

Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., a self-nominated candidate for a leadership role in the soon-to-be Republican-controlled House of Representatives, repeated the reports as fact.

Official response: The White House says it won't reveal the costs of security for a president's trip, which is long-standing policy. But aides said the $200 million figure was greatly exaggerated.

"The numbers reported in this article have no basis in reality," White House spokesman Tommy Vietor said. "Due to security concerns, we are unable to outline details associated with security procedures and costs, but it's safe to say these numbers are wildly inflated."

The Pentagon said the report about warships was absurd.

"I will take the liberty this time of dismissing as absolutely absurd this notion that somehow we were deploying 10 percent of the Navy, some 34 ships and an aircraft carrier, in support of the president's trip to Asia," Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said. "That's just comical. Nothing close to that is being done."

The facts:

One. Indian news media are filled with flatly false or misleading reports about Obama's trip, beginning with his arrival Saturday. Among them: that he'd go on a safari, and that he'd bring his daughters. Neither is true.

Two. Presidential trips are expensive, but nowhere near $200 million a day.

As McClatchy reported last week in a story about how the India trip was set up, "such a trip involves hundreds if not thousands of people and logistics, from making sure that runways can handle Air Force One to airlifting armored limousines, and Hollywood-worthy stagecraft designed to get just the right image and message to TV screens at home and abroad. The costs run into tens of millions of dollars. ...

"Setting up a five-country trip including India for Clinton in 2000, for example, required 94 round-trip flights of C-17s and 47 flights of C-5s, at a cost of more than $37 million, according to the Government Accountability Office."

The Air Force Times estimated the cost of that trip at $50 million, or $10 million a day.

A Clinton trip to Africa cost $42 million, according to the GAO.

ON THE WEB

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GAO report on presidential travel

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McClatchy Newspapers 2010

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