The True Cost of the Obama’s Lavish Life While at the White House

“Merely writing this information unsettles me to the point of needing a personal vacation.”

Our beloved nation, despite all its recent growing pains and evolutionary/revolutionary climate bursts, is robust in so many ways. Quite certainly, there is always room for improvement. Notwithstanding the budget deficit, Congressional politicos and the Fed earmark monetary resources as best applicable and in well-intended forward-momentum fashion. But what about those elected as commander-in-chief and how they spend down time? How much does that cost American taxpayers? If you look at how dandy some presidential vacations are and how the inherent Secret Service protection can add up, you’ll likely demand a step up from Ramen noodle, deservedly so.

After examining some of these curiosities, my impression is that the national dole has a festering hole, needlessly squandering tax dollars.


In March 2015, the Washington Examiner published an analysis pertaining to the Obama presidency and its rampant vacation spending. At that time, it tabulated $40 million was spent on Obama family holiday excursions — 38 in total. If that doesn’t cause you to kick out a chair and walk around while clenching your fists and teeth, read on.

According to an Investor’s Business Daily report chronicling the Obama presidency and his overall family vacation costs, estimates including Secret Service expenses reach $71 million. And that figure came about via a court order — the Obama camp foot-dragged supplying the numbers to Judicial Watch, a watchdog group keeping government in-check. Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) filings were necessitated, ultimately exposing some of the accounting.

The $71 million was the vacation costs figure to-date in latter 2015, so subsequent Obama family vacation jaunts actually fatten that figure. And, yes, even with media coverage chronically blasting overuse of the federal checkbook…the Obamas enjoyed additional trips while taxpayers filled the till. Barrack, Michelle, daughters Sasha and Malia, Michelle’s niece, and even Marian Robinson (Michelle’s mom) were treated to happy times, thanks to folks like you and me reading about it back home.

The $71 million figure spans seven of Obama’s eight years in the White House. With simple math, that comes to a tad more than $10 million per year. It’s no secret the Obamas routinely spent Christmas in Hawaii. That’s a whole bunch of piña coladas. Not bad for a man whose Chicago constituents placed him in elected office…the same folks who are roughing it and holding on to strings of modest, if any, sustenance.

Where was then-President Obama’s mindset when the national budget was so severely bruised? Was it somehow overridden by self-entitlements? Are Hawaii’s piña colada umbrellas that collectible?

Vacation Legacy

I find it somewhat amusing that media outlets dubbed former-President Obama with various names poking fun at his seeming addiction to vacations. “Vacation Dad” is one such label; it stems from regular feel-good forays at Martha’s Vinyard. “Vacation-dad-in-chief” is another moniker; it stemmed from a white-water rafting splash in June 2017 (still causing expense to the US by having a lifetime cadre of Secret Service agents by his side). “Vacation Obama” was coined by comic Jordan Peele whose character impressions include a drunken Obama ridiculing our nation’s current state of political affairs, all while still possessing tax dollar spending power (security protection costs).

But the Vacation-dad-in-chief connotation also extended to then-First Lady Michelle Obama who racked up $222,000 worth of expenses while she lodged at China’s swank Shangri-La Hotel in a 2-day stint in March 2014. According to The Weekly Standard, Michelle Obama’s group booked 144 rooms. That’s not a shabby Shangri-La, and we paid for it.

“The cost of the first lady’s hotel room for the Beijing portion of her trip, reportedly $8,400/night, raised some eyebrows at the time,” The Weekly Standard reported. The federal government has a process for how lodgings are chosen and the logistics compensated by tax dollars, as delineated in prepared documents explaining this particular FLOTUS excursion. Each trip, otherwise known as “Justification and Approval,” ultimately receives assessments and financial backing to make it all happen.

A July 2017 Newsmax article titled “Michelle Obama Lavish Expenses Cost Taxpayers Big” says it all. Written by Tom Fitton of Judicial Watch, the piece explored Michelle Obama’s overseas trips and billed them as “lavish, extravagant, and excessive by any reasonable metric.”

Michelle Obama’s Africa trip also caused a sketchy stir, including frivolous additions of having along “a separate make-up and hair stylist” and Michelle’s niece for the ride, all at taxpayer expense and serving no relevance to furthering US interests abroad.

Although Obama White House officials decried the claims as “100 percent false,” various media outlets reported that Michelle Obama spent $50,000 at a New York City lingerie boutique some time last year. The reports say that Michelle Obama closed off part of Agent Provocateur, located on Madison Avenue in the Manhattan section of New York, with Sheikaha Mozah, the “Queen of Qatar.”

So our nation has “Justification and Approval” overseers? Try marketing that to the one-too-many wounded warriors fox-holed across the American landscape, despairingly watching society from a stuck, ill-funded stance.

US Government Accountability Office

As its name implies, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) is the monetary measure whose federal abacus tabulates expenditures of all-things-government, including specific ventures taken by every sitting president termed in DC. In particular, the GAO counted the beans and extrapolated tax dollars spent on Obama’s February 2013 dual-city trip for a speech in Chicago and, thereafter, hop to Palm Beach, Florida. The total trip cost the taxpayer around $3.6 million. GAO accounting estimated $3.57 million for security alone (air-flight, maritime enforcement, rental cars, meals, lodging, and DHS personnel to mobilize it all successfully).  That particular trip lasted just three days. And the president’s travel whim didn’t wane.

Mr. Fitton wrote: “Apparently, the Obama family continues to bill the taxpayers for costly tourism jaunts thinly disguised as humanitarian crusades. If Michelle Obama wants to take tea with Prince Harry or enthuse over Da Vinci’s The Last Supper, she is certainly entitled to do so, but not at taxpayer expense.”

Secret Service Protection

Interestingly, by federal rule, presidents before Bill Clinton was elected receive US Secret Service Protection for life. After Clinton was elected president, the scope changed, whereby presidents were accorded a protective detail of agents for up to ten years commencing when the presidential term concludes. According to Quora.com, “Barrack Obama has had more physical security incidents and death threats than any previous president, by several magnitudes.”

Thus, no matter how it is viewed, a seemingly self-serving trait evolved during his reign when then-President Obama signed executive orders reinstituting lifetime Secret Service protection for all presidents. That last part means we are on-the-hook for more Obama costs for life: his, yours and mine. Are you clenched yet?

Camp David

In a nutshell, Camp David, also known as “the president’s country residence,” offers the assemblage of the president’s needs while retaining an ultra-private retreat encamped in a natural, serene setting. We the People own that parcel of serenity relegated for the US president. Although some sources report Camp David is free to US presidents, that is not entirely accurate. The Secret Service agents cost money and all presidential protection logistics and operational effectiveness come with inherent expenses, no matter where the president travels/stays.

For example, Air Force One (AFO) is not running on Flintstone power or aviator foot-pedals yet, so flight time costs are inherent. Per Investors.com, AFO costs $206,000/per hour to operate. Often transporting presidents to Camp David, Marine One is operated by the US Marine Corps with operational expenses for DoD and Homeland Security personnel.

A Washington Post report in 2008 claimed, “Outfitted with cutting-edge communications equipment, antimissile defenses and hardened hulls, each of the VH-71 helicopters, to be dubbed Marine One whenever the president is onboard, will cost $400 million — more than the most recent Boeing 747 jetliner outfitted to serve as Air Force One when it was delivered in 1990, even when adjusted for inflation.”

Like many of us, I comprehend the need for presidential protection; it’s a given in today’s geopolitical climate and all its potential adversarial implications. But traveling conservatively equates to mega savings. It merely takes a mindset to hunker-down when it is plausible to do so, preserving tax dollars in the process, while also protecting presidents against attack.

Current Presidency

Initially, the Trump presidency received some picking and poking, almost badgering his seeming choice to break from traditional Camp David retreats by opting for his opulent Mar-A-Lago oceanfront estate in Palm Beach County, Florida. The President has also made frequent trips to Trump Tower in NYC. But that personal choice did not bode well either, at least according to a Politico report claiming a weekend venture to Mar-A-Lago costs taxpayers about $3 million. Politico seemed to chide President Trump for his historical bashing of Obama’s incessant vacation trips’ whittling the tax dole, so crossfire ensued. I wonder if political party affiliation had anything to do with that stance.

As well, First Lady Melania Trump and their child Barron Trump often stayed at Trump Tower in NYC. That reduced costs in terms of lodging and general sustenance (since it is a preexisting home and not an addition by any stretch), although Secret Service costs remain part and parcel at taxpayers’ expense. The NYPD reportedly takes a $145,000/day hit there also, providing police personnel to secure the building/occupants from nefarious intrusion.

However, several trips were observed by Judicial Watch folks who trumpeted the sounds of needless expenses to tax roles.

As Tom Fitton compared #44 and #45, “The public controversy over President Trump’s travel will only increase if the Pentagon and Secret Service won’t disclose basic costs and other details as FOIA law requires. Extreme transparency should be the Trump administration’s ethic, especially after eight years of lawless Obama secrecy.” No mincing words there. And it surely is the American public’s right to know where the money is going and by whom it is being spent.

Several months into his presidency, Mr. Trump started to regard his travels to places he inhabited before his presidential run. As a businessman, he is shrewd when it comes to spending habits and seems acutely aware of cost-saving finesse.

“Presidential travel is racking up millions of dollars in expenses paid by taxpayers. The liberal media didn’t much care about Judicial Watch’s reporting on President [and Michelle] Obama’s abusive travel but now are keenly interested in President Trump’s trips. The Trump administration should do what the Obama administration did not do — move reforms through to get these expenses under control for this and future presidents,” echoed Tom Fitton.

As far as reducing costs go, it is interesting to compare the former First Lady to the current FLOTUS. Michelle Obama had 24 staff salaried by tax dollars, whereas Melania Trump employs only four staff.

Tax Tally

Albeit an existential statement, $71 million dollars is an abundance of cash and could have been used to alleviate some of our beloved nation’s bruises and lacerations, but it was squandered on a man who said Yes to so many outlandish programs, demands, twisted rights, and condoned assaults on American civility. He took America as if it were a snow-globe, turned it upside-down, and jettisoned to Funville countless times while the broken pieces from American upheaval littered the ground.

As reported by Tom Fitton, “To date, the known beyond-first-class travel expenses of the Obamas and Vice President Joe Biden exceed $57 million.” That is travel expenses only, including the Obama duo’s infamous “date night” rendezvous here and there.

Judicial Watch filed lawsuits seeking all costs details pertinent to a list of itineraries booked for President Trump and FLOTUS Melania Trump, as well as former-President Obama and Michelle Obama, including taxpayer expenditures for Secret Service protection.

Deficit speech after deficit speech, the numbers screamed for help. Accounting principles and frugal philosophies harken a crystalline view of numerical conservatism with respect to fiscal expenditures. It is fairly simple. And that is precisely the point: constituents labor to increase quality of life while presidential parties bask in the sun in faraway places not even within our nation’s borders. It smacks of hard-earned dollars entrusted to bank tellers’ drawers, only to be used by bank presidents on lavish amenities with no interest for the little guys and gals in view of the glistening vault.

“Obama family travel cost taxpayers at least $100,104,459.53 during his two terms.” Due diligence exercised by Judicial Watch lawyers offer this particular glimpse into grandiose spending habits by the Obama unit.

Yes, we all need and deserve vacations. We also need a purse which has a drawstring to close and a willing hand to twist-tie it while the nation’s business is conducted. And by “purse” I am not referring to Gucci. Any White House vacation taunts can be remedied by watching Nat Geo in the Oval Office.

Merely writing this information unsettles me to the point of needing a personal vacation, but I prefer business affairs and to do what the folks at Judicial Watch do: report fiscal findings. Welp, it’s time for yet another bowl of Ramen.

The opinions expressed here by contributors are their own and are not the view of OpsLens which seeks to provide a platform for experience-driven commentary on today's trending headlines in the U.S. and around the world. Have a different opinion or something more to add on this topic? Contact us for guidelines on submitting your own experience-driven commentary.
Stephen Owsinski

Stephen Owsinski is an OpsLens Content Manager and Contributor. Owsinski is a retired law enforcement officer whose career included assignments in the Uniformed Patrol Division and Field Training Officer (FTO) unit. He is currently a researcher and writer. Follow Stephen on Twitter @uniformblue.

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