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Why Will Obama's Inauguration Cost so Much?

5 years ago
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In these dour economic times, one complaint made by the people who didn't vote for Barack Obama is: why is the federal government spending so much money on his inauguration? As Tom "Hammer" Delay told Politico:

If Obama were "serious" about changing Washington, DeLay said, "He would announce to the world: 'We are in crisis, we are at war, people are losing jobs; we are not going to have this party. Instead, I'm going to get sworn in at the White House. I'm going to have a nice little chicken dinner, and we'll save $125 million."

Oh, Mr. Delay. This whole inauguration thing must really be painful for you to have to watch. Forced from your position of power due to an indictment charging that you violated campaign finance laws, you're a fine one to lecture Obama on how to be serious about change. But what about the price tag? Is Delay in the right ballpark?

ABC News crunches the numbers and finds that:

The federal government estimates that it will spend roughly $49 million on the inaugural weekend. Washington, D.C., Virginia and Maryland have requested another $75 million from the federal government to help pay for their share of police, fire and medical services.

And then there is the party bill.

We have a budget of roughly $45 million, maybe a little bit more," said Linda Douglas, spokeswoman for the inaugural committee. That's more than the $42.3 million in private funds spent by President Bush's committee in 2005, or the $33 million spent for Bill Clinton's first inaugural in 1993.

So, while Delay may not be far off in terms of the total cost of the event, a good bit of that will be paid via private donations, just as in inaugurations past. Media Matters has more on the apples-to-apples comparison.

We also must consider crowd size. When Lyndon B. Johnson took his oath of office in 1965, roughly 1.2 million people turned up. Until Obama, that record turnout would not be surpassed. Bill Clinton drew 800,000 for his first term, and a mere 250,000 for his second. George W. Bush packed in 400,000 for his first solemn swearing, and about 100,000 fewer than that for his second.

Estimates for Obama's crowd range anywhere from 2-4 million. That's a whole lot more porta-potties to rent. And here is the fundamental difference with those who bemoan another lavish inauguration at a time of economic turmoil and those who want to dance and sing in the frigid cold on the Washington Mall: the former group isn't happy Obama won, and the latter group is. The latter group is larger than the former, judging from most polls, and they are hungry to have something to celebrate.

So, while Tom Delay sits at home with his darkened television, eating his chicken (don't forget the collard greens!) and cursing history, a great many Americans will be having a grand old time, if but for a day or two.

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