Wednesday, March 27, 2013

London and Paris on a Budget

A million dollars for a couple of days in London and Paris for the Vice-President?
Are conservatives crying wolf again? Let's remember the conservative pundits who claimed President Obama's trip to India in 2010 cost $200 million per day. That quoted cost was ridiculous and thoroughly debunked by Anderson Cooper. No one knows the actual costs, but it was probably closer to $50 million for the whole trip.
We do know some figures that are not in dispute: 04-Feb-2013 Hyatt Regency London for $459,388.65 and 05-Feb-2013 Hotel Intercontinental Paris Le Grand for $585,000.50.
Okay, I'm trying to be fair here.
Mr. Biden is the Vice-President of the United States. We respect the office and that respect should reflect on the person in office. We elected him, so we owe him that.
He deserves protection. A lot of people in this world are unsavory characters and might try to harm him. It probably won't be anyone working in those two hotels, though.
He deserves some comfort. He works hard. Well, I think the job of Vice-President must be difficult, though I honestly am not sure what it entails. Any help here? Regardless, the VP is always busy doing something (like Mr. Cheney shooting lawyers? j/k).
I'm upset that the conservative media grabs the numbers and cries foul without doing some investigation.
Yes, the USA is tumbling down a Fiscal Cliff, has no viable budget, has raised the debt ceiling to keep the government functional and is in the middle of Sequestration. These are all facts and we should be embarrassed that our government officials do not address the issues like the courageous men and women we elected them to be.
Yes, a million dollars seems like a lot of money to the ordinary citizen, especially when the median household income in the US is about $50,000 and the average income closer to $46,000. (There is a really nice breakdown of this information here.) A million dollars is relatively nothing to the US government, though. In 2011 (the latest year I can find published data) the net operating cost for the government was $1,313 billion, which was significantly less than the $2,080 billion in 2010.
So Mr. Biden's trip to London and Paris is chump change for the government.
Again, let's try to get some perspective.
In 1998 President Clinton made three significant trips. His trip to Africa, with 1302 people, cost $42.8 million. His trip to Chile, with 592 people, cost $10.5 million. His trip to China, with 510 people, cost $18.8 million. Each of these trips is an order of magnitude higher than the cost of Mr. Biden's trip. Of course, the numbers for President Clinton's trip do not include travel and support personnel which would add a few million to each trip. (According to one report, in FY2012 the average cost of flying Air Force One for one hour is $179,750. That adds up.)
Well, to be fair, the numbers for Mr. Biden's trip also don't include those costs, nor the added costs of $321,665 for a local driver for his limousine (flown in from the US, and we don't know those costs either).
My biggest issue is when conservatives grab these numbers and use them as a club to decry the wasteful spending in the government. Really? Compared to the non-existent budget (but based on historical expenditures), Mr. Biden's trip is an easy target but shouldn't we look for the items that are costing us more? Of course, if we had a government budget then we'd know whether Mr. Biden's trip was excessive according to an established standard. But we don't have a budget - hello? Congressmen?
Mr. Biden's hotel costs in London, according to the contract with the Hyatt Regency, is for "approximately 136 hotel rooms for 893 room nights" - which is about six nights for 136 rooms. Except they only stayed one night. That's an accounting problem. According to some figures the per diem rate for Federal government employees in London is about $390 (which on my business trips means room and meals and transportation). Even though that figure seems a bit high, it is London. Now doing some quick math I calculate $459,388.65/893 nights = $514.43/night. Now that's just an estimate, but it's probably close. I can believe the VP of the US might pay a 32% premium - but what about the other rooms? Well, maybe the VP's room was really  expensive. Let's say that we have 135 rooms for $390; that would be $52,560. That would make Mr. Biden's room about $17,400 for the night.
Okay, that does seem pricey, but I'm sure there's security costs required.
Hey, how come they didn't get a group discount? My church got one when we went to Israel. I don't suppose anyone knows the answer to that one, so let's move on.
Or, as Dr. James Boys pointed out in an article in The Commentator, why didn't he stay at the Ambassador's residence in Regent's Park? He finishes his statement with "Either way it's a totally unnecessary expense at a time of a $17 trillion deficit."  Well, that's true, Mr. Boys, but a million dollars is barely a drop in the bucket when compared to $17 trillion. Are we focusing on the right things here?
I think not. Mr. Biden's trip seems excessive, at least to me. However, an ABC article quotes the State Department saying
"These costs are nothing out of the ordinary. They are in line with high-level travel across multiple administrations," the State Department official said. "The contract costs cover the entire range of support, including accommodations for military, communications, secret service staff, and other support professionals. Security experts are also required to travel in advance of the president or vice president. Safety and security are not negotiable."
These costs are "nothing out of the ordinary."
There, my fellow taxpayers, is the problem.
(If we had a budget and budget oversight that would help, in my opinion.)

I am also concerned about a few other things happening lately, but I haven't yet studied them, so I have no data.
Drone strikes against US citizens IN the US?
V.I.P.R. checkpoints vs Bill of Rights (old news?)
1.6 billion rounds of ammo?
$500 million to Palestinians?
Watching the government could take me a lot of time…

1 comment:

  1. your're right,watching our crazy government is way too time consuming, but what really bothers me is our government watching US ml