Milbank: Plutocracy doesn't come cheap
WASHINGTON – How many Americans does it take to keep President Trump and his family in the lifestyle to which they are accustomed?
Well, think of it this way. The Washington Post last week had a scoop on the Secret Service requesting an additional $60 million in its next budget: $27 million to protect the president's wife and son in their three-floor penthouse at Trump Tower in New York, where they live instead of the White House, and $33 million for additional travel costs.
The average family of four in the United States pays about $4,000 a year in federal income taxes. That means the entire tax bill for 15,000 families for the year will go toward these additional protection measures for Trump. And the Secret Service is just a slice of the overall expense. Figure in costs incurred by authorities in Florida and New York, the Pentagon and others, and costs related to the Trump sons' international business trips, and we're well over $100 million a year.
That's the annual federal income-tax bill for some 25,000 American families. Each trip Trump takes to his Mar-a-Lago club in Florida, where he has gone most weekends since his inauguration, is estimated to cost taxpayers in excess of $3 million. And an unknown chunk of the taxpayers' money subsidizes Trump businesses in the form of rent, restaurant bills and publicity. In April, Trump will host Chinese leader Xi Jinping at what Trump dubs the "Southern White House," which is a Trump property where the initiation fee has doubled to $200,000 since Trump won the presidency.
The taxpayer subsidization of Trump's rich-and-famous lifestyle is but one of the bait-and-switch maneuvers by Trump, who said during the campaign that "I would rarely leave the White House because there's so much work to be done." The man ran as a populist and is governing as a plutocrat.
Trump's budget, unveiled shortly before one of his Mar-a-Lago jaunts, would cut many of the government's efforts to help low- and middle-income Americans: aid for small manufacturers, financial assistance to rural regions, affordable housing, job training and home heating. Analyses of previous Trump proposals have shown that the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans would get nearly half of the tax benefits.
On March 18, The Washington Post's Philip Rucker and Robert Costa reported on the unexpected influence of a "coterie of ascendant Manhattan business figures" around Trump aligned with son-in-law Jared Kushner: Gary Cohn and Dina Powell, formerly of Goldman Sachs, and two other businessmen recruited by Kushner, Chris Liddell and Reed Cordish. They, along with finance and industry heavies in the Cabinet such as Wilbur Ross, Steven Mnuchin and Rex Tillerson, are providing a counterweight to adviser Stephen Bannon's populism.
Plutocracy doesn't come cheap, in ways big and small. Tillerson, the secretary of state, kicked the press corps off his plane, which means taxpayers will probably pick up tens of thousands of dollars in travel costs that had been paid by media organizations. (The administration said Tillerson flew on a smaller plane to save money, but the military 737 he took is often used by officials traveling with reporters.)
A budget-conscious president would spend weekends at Camp David rather than hopping on Air Force One, at $200,000 an hour, to Palm Beach. The Post's Philip Bump estimated spending on Trump travel and protection, if it continues at current rates, at $526 million for his presidency. This dwarfs what was spent by Trump's predecessors, even though Trump in 2012 tweeted that Obama's "vacation is costing taxpayers millions of dollars — unbelievable!"
Trump has already used his office to boost Trump properties by dining at the Trump International Hotel in Washington and playing golf on his courses. And the Trump administration has told the Trump Organization that this is just fine. The General Services Administration last week declared that the Trump Organization is in "full compliance" with the terms of its lease of the Trump International facility, even though the agreement says no "elected official of the government of the United States" can get "any benefit" from the lease. Trump stepped down from day-to-day management of his company, but he and his family still stand to make out financially.
Trump, who has often pointed out that he's exempt from conflict-of-interest rules, isn't just any elected official. This week, when asked by Time's Michael Scherer about credibility problems over his false intelligence claims, Trump had an imperious justification: "I'm president, and you're not."
Or, as another big-spending politician once put it: L'etat, c'est moi.
Dana Milbank is a columnist for The Washington Post.