Cost of Obama's Trip to India Angers Right

Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., addresses a Tea party rally at Freedom Plaza in Washington, Thursday, April 15, 2010. <br><br> <b><a href="http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-503544_162-20002600-503544.html" class="linkIcon read">Protesters Rally Against "Gangster Government"</a></b> AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin

Rep. Michele Bachmann
AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin

Earlier this week, the Press Trust of India reported that the United States will "be spending a whopping $200 million per day on President Barack Obama's visit" to Mumbai.

The story lacked a named source, and the $200 million claim was credited to "a top official of the Maharashtra Government privy to the arrangements for the high-profile visit."

The claim quickly gained traction on the right, thanks in part to a link on the conservative news aggregator The Drudge Report. Among those citing it is Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, who responded to a question from CNN's Anderson Cooper last night on how she would reduce the deficit by citing the cost of the presidential trip.

"Well I think we know that just within a day or so, the president of the United States will be taking a trip over to India that is expected to cost the taxpayers $200 million a day," she said. "He's taking two thousand people with him. He'll be renting out over 870 rooms in India. And these are 5-star hotel rooms at the Taj Mahal Palace hotel. This is the kind of over-the-top spending, it's a very small example, Anderson."

CBS News asked the White House about the story yesterday, and the White House said in an email that "The numbers reported in this article have no basis in reality."

"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 official said.

At his press briefing today, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said that while he would not get into the costs of protecting President Obama, they are "comparable" to what they have been for past presidents in similar circumstances.

As FactCheck.org notes, there is no evidence to support the $200 million figure (other than the anonymous quote), and it seems like a serious stretch in light of the fact that the entire war in Afghanistan costs less on a daily basis. 

Writing about the initial report, the Wall Street Journal calls it "demonstrably incorrect" even without considering the $200 million claim. 

"It says the White House had blocked off the entire Taj Mahal Hotel in Mumbai - it hasn't - and that the press traveling with Mr. Obama will be staying there. We won't," writes Jonathan Weisman. "Besides, the press pays its own way at considerable cost to the media outlets, not the U.S. taxpayer."

Back in 1999, the General Accounting Office did a study of a 10-day trip to Africa by President Bill Clinton. The report found that the total cost for the trip was $42 million.

That figure did not take into account the airplanes, helicopters and support personnel who accompany the president, however. (The personnel would presumably be paid whether or not a trip took place.) The operating cost of Air Force One is over $100,000 per hour, and a ten-hour flight from DC to Mumbai would thus tack on a million dollars to a trip's cost.

Anger about the cost of the trip on the part of conservatives mirrors outrage over Michelle Obama's vacation to Spain with her daughterover the summer, which prompted one columnist to dub her a "modern-day Marie Antoinette."

Pressed by Cooper about her claims last night, TPM notes, Bachmann said Mr. Obama's trip to India exceeded normal presidential trips, arguing that "we have never seen this sort of an entourage going with a president before." She added that "we have never seen a trip at this level before, of this level of excess."

When Cooper noted that no one knows the actual cost of the trip, since costs aren't disclosed for security reasons, Bachmann said, "Well, these are the numbers that have been coming out in the press."


Brian Montopoli is a political reporter for CBSNews.com. You can read more of his posts here. Follow Hotsheet on Facebook and Twitter.

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