Does President Barack Obama know how much he is spending?
Critics of the president asked that question after he asserted, “Since I’ve been president, federal spending has risen at the lowest pace in nearly 60 years.” (This figure comes from an online article that has been widely debunked because, among other sleights of hand, it interprets modest rates of increase in annual spending as a reduction in the spending, even though the total actual spending under Obama’s watch has been gargantuan.)
But the same question could apply to the president’s personal finances as well, given that the president and Mrs. Obama have spent enough money during their time in the White House to reportedly express anxiety about their personal finances — even as the president earns several million dollars from his book sales and even though the taxpayers cover a portion of the Obamas’ living expenses.
The Obama campaign has been quick to shine a spotlight on symbols of Mitt Romney’s wealth — the fact that he owns a Swiss bank account, the car elevator in his California home. And the media have exhibited a particular fascination with the cost of Ann Romney’s blouse and her expensive enjoyment of horse riding and training.
Some of these things are paid for by the taxpayers, such as the president’s transportation. But other costs are covered by the Obamas — clothes, incidental costs, most food (but taxpayers cover the cost of state dinners and official events). When Michelle Obama and their daughters travel abroad without the president, they reimburse the government the cost of their first-class tickets to the destination. Of course, that reimbursement is a much smaller sum than the actual cost of transporting the first lady; a much-derided trip to Spain by the first lady cost taxpayers $467,000 in transportation and security expenses.
In Jodi Kantor’s book about the president’s first three years in office, The Obamas, she describes tensions in the White House before the 2010 midterms:
Even the president made uncomfortable jokes about why his wife needed so many things. Behind the scenes, aides said, the Obamas were concerned about money:the president’s books could only sell so many copies, and it would be years until he could write more and the first lady could write her own. From vacation rental homes big enough to accommodate the Secret Service to all the personal entertaining they did at the White House, their lifestyle had grown fearsomely expensive.