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Obama's bus tour costing taxpayers thousands

Barack Obama
President Barack Obama delivers remarks at the YMCA at Guilford Technical Community College in Jamestown, N.C., Tuesday, Oct. 18, 2011. AP Photo/Gerry Broome
If Mitt Romney, Rick Perry, Herman Cain or any of the other presidential challengers were to embark on a three-day bus trip like the one now underway by President Obama, it would cost their campaigns tens of thousands of dollars. Perhaps more.

They would have to pay a variety of expenses, including:

  • air travel to their first destination
  • leasing of one or more buses appropriate to the journey
  • rental for halls or meeting rooms for their candidates' appearances
  • the cost of lodging and meals for their candidate and staff

But not the Obama campaign. The White House declared that Mr. Obama's three-day trip through North Carolina and Virginia are official events and not campaign appearances, even though the two states are known to be political objectives of his re-election bid.

So Mr. Obama's expenses are borne by taxpayers, including:

  • the pro-rated costs of his flights aboard Marine One and Air Force One that brought him to his first stop yesterday in Asheville, NC
  • the two buses used by him and his staff, owned and operated by the United States Secret Service
  • costs associated with setting up speech sites including microphones, speakers, amplifiers, teleprompters and TV lights
  • lodging and meals for the president and his political staff

It's an advantage enjoyed by every incumbent president seeking re-election -- and a disadvantage endured by his challengers. And though the White House has said the trip is not political, Mr. Obama has repeatedly used his speeches to take Republicans to task for opposing the provisions of his jobs bill.

"They said no to putting teachers and construction workers back on the job," the president said yesterday in Asheville. "They said no to rebuilding our roads and our bridges and our airports. They said no to cutting taxes for middle-class families and small businesses when all they've been doing is cutting taxes for the wealthiest Americans."

He continued: "They want to gut regulations; they want to let Wall Street do whatever it wants. They want to drill more. And they want to repeal health care reform. That's their jobs plan."

On the Senate floor Monday, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., raised concerns about the partisan rhetoric from his 2008 presidential rival.

"In fact, I was somewhat taken aback, since the president and his spokesperson had billed his trip as a taxpayer-paid visit," said McCain.

He said Mr. Obama has the right to express his views about GOP policies but wondered, "is that appropriate on the taxpayers' dime? Since it is clearly campaigning."

A day before the trip begin, White House officials held a conference call with reporters and repeatedly made the case that the president's trip was about the jobs bill, not his re-election, even though he was traveling in states he won in 2008 and wants to keep in his column next year as well.

Some of Mr. Obama's bus trip events had the sound and feel of campaign rallies. As he arrived in Asheville for his first event, his audience on the tarmac chanted, "Four more years!"

And Mr. Obama himself would shift into the higher-decibel, campaign-style cadence that served him so well as a candidate for president three years ago.

If this bus trip was billed as a political journey, his campaign and/or the Democratic party would be paying the costs, but not as much as his presidential challengers might. He could still ride the 747s that serve as Air Force One, and pay only a small pro-rated portion of the expense, as per Federal Election Commission rules.

To date, the White House has refused repeated requests from CBS News to disclose its calculations of how much the Obama campaign or DNC must reimburse the government for Mr. Obama's political travel expenses.

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