Between the Lines

Between the Lines by David Lias Sour grapes.

That, in effect, is how Congressman John Thune describes the reaction of South Dakota Democrats to President George W. Bush�s visit to South Dakota this week.

As I write this, Air Force One is winging its way to Joe Foss Field at Sioux Falls. This week will mark the second time Bush has visited South Dakota since he was elected president.

Anyone who ever believed that Bush is in South Dakota for �official business� only is terribly naive.

Anyone who believes that presidents have never traveled to states to try to influence political races also needs to get real.

Thune is challenging Sen. Tim Johnson in the Nov. 5 election at the president�s urging in an effort to win back control of the Senate from the Democrats, who hold a one-seat advantage.

Thune, a three-term Republican, said he anticipates at least two visits from Bush in support of the campaign.

Bush coupled a visit to a school in Eden Prairie, MN, with a fund raiser for Republican Senate candidate Norm Coleman when he visited Minnesota last month.

Thune said the cost of the president�s trip will be divided between the taxpayers, for the official portion, and by his campaign and the Republican Party for the political parts.

Thune has responded to criticism from Johnson�s staff about the congressman�s use of his official House Web site to publicize the president�s visit.

�I think that is just sour grapes on their part,� he said. �If they want to quibble with what is on the Web site, that is their prerogative. I am sure if it is up to Johnson�s folks, they wouldn�t want him to come at all,� Thune told the Argus Leader. �They will whine and carp about anything I do.�

South Dakotans, as well as all other U.S. citizens, need to face a reality that can�t be changed: We taxpayers pay for the upkeep and operation of most of the costs of Air Force One.

It doesn�t matter if Bush is flying to South Dakota or Timbuktu.

When Clinton was hopping around the country and globe, Republicans figured out�how much it cost to operate Air Force One. Now Democrats are doing the same thing since we voters gave Bush the keys to the plane.

The operational, per hour cost of Air Force One varies, depending on who you ask, but ranges from $35,000 to $50,000 per hour. In 2000, the Republican National Committee estimated the cost at $35,000/hour while the New York Post reported that, �The cost per hour of a White House flight varies, depending on the plane used. It�s typically about $50,000 per hour to fly the president and his entourage on Air Force One � or seven times the hourly rate of a commercial Boeing 747.� (Republican National Committee Release, 2/3/2000; New York Post, 8/21/2000)

White House estimates staff costs at $22,000 to $59,000. According to the Wall Street Journal, �The policy component means taxpayers pay most of the bill for these forays. The national or state party covers the cost of political events, but the public covers security, staff and Air Force One expenses. White House spokeswoman Anne Womack estimates that trips, on average, cost between $22,000 and $59,000 for staff, not including security and the use of Air Force One.� (Wall Street Journal, 4/16/02)

Based on the RNC�s estimate that Air Force One costs $35,000 an hour to operate, each hour of travel time for the president�s campaign visit to South Dakota could also fund:

? Prescription drug coverage for 21 more seniors: based on the fact that the typical senior fills 18 prescriptions a year at an average cost of $1,650.

? Head Start for 5.14 more children: at an average cost of $6,800 per child for the program which helps kids of low-income families get a start on their education. (Los Angeles Times, 4/3/02)

? 1.2 new teachers in South Dakota: based on the average salary of South Dakota teachers for the 1999-2000 school year, $29,072. (Aberdeen American News, 6/5/01)

? Deductibles for health care for 23 veterans based on the new $1,500 deductible that would be imposed on 40 percent of South Dakota�s veterans under the president�s budget. (Argus Leader, 2/13/02)

At this very moment, we have scores of Army, Air Force, Navy, Marine, Coast Guard and National Guard operations going on and they�ve all burned up a lot of taxpayers� dollars in just the short time it�s taken me to write this column.

If we analyzed the operating budgets of other government agencies, like the U.S. Postal Service, the IRS, the FDA, the FAA, etc., we likely would soon find ourselves overwhelmed trying to keep track of where all of our dollars are going.

Mind you, I�m not complaining. I take comfort in knowing that we are being served by the world�s best military. I like safe, edible food. I like efficient (most of the time) postal delivery. I like a sound transportation infrastructure.

I like just about everything the local, state and federal levels of government does to insure that we can continue our free, productive lives.

That includes paying the bills for Air Force One. I like my president to get to where he wants quickly and safely � for whatever reason.

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