We are now firmly ensconced in the brutal Age of the Sequester, and things in America are grave. The federal government, we learned on Wednesday, is so strapped for cash that the president has been forced to cut off the People’s access to the home he’s borrowing from them. He didn’t want to have to do this, naturally — “particularly during the popular spring touring season.” But then Congress just had to go and acquiesce in measures that the president himself had suggested and signed into law. How beastly! We axed 2.6 percent from a $44.8 trillion budget, and now the president can’t even afford the $18,000 per week necessary to retain the seven staff members who facilitate citizens’ enjoying self-guided tours around the White House.
The executive mansion is not in that much trouble, of course. It’s certainly not in sufficiently dire straits for Air Force One ($181,757 per hour) to be grounded, or to see the executive chef ($100,000 per year) furloughed, or to cut back on the hours of the three full-time White House calligraphers ($277,050 per year for the trio), or to limit the invaluable work of the chief of staff to the president’s dog ($102,000 per year), or to trim his ridiculous motorcade ($2.2 million). If Ellen DeGeneres wants another dancercize session or Spain holds another clothing sale, the first family will be there before you can say “citizen executive.” Fear ye not, serfs: Austerity may be the word of the week, but the president is by no means in any danger of being forced to live like the president of a republic instead of like a king.
When Calvin Coolidge was president in the glitzy 1920s, he took the republican ideal so seriously that he ended up in a series of tiffs with the White House housekeeper, Elizabeth Jaffray, over the cost of state dinners, and took to admonishing the executive branch for using too many pencils. Such behavior now serves only as a punchline to a joke that is not funny. The current annual cost of the White House — just in household expenses, not the policy operations for which it exists — is $1.4 billion: Annually, presidential vacations cost $20 million (the low estimate for one presidential vacation to Hawaii is $4 million, but the true cost is probably five times that); the first family’s yearly health-care costs are $7 million; more than $6 million is spent on the White House grounds each year. Transporting the president cost $346 million last year. But as Michelle Obama might say, America is basically a downright mean sort of place, so the tours will just have to go. One hopes at least that the calligraphers were recruited to sign the docents’ pink slips.
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