North Carolina Rep. Howard Coble wants Barack and Michele Obama to spend less time on Air Force One and more time on fixing the budget. Coble went so far as to call the presidential jet the Obamas’ “personal toy.” Coble stated that Obama traveled more than any other president has in his first year in office and is currently the second most traveled president.
“I’m not suggesting … that we compromise safety or security,” Coble said on the House floor. “But the first family, it seems to me, treats Air Force One and related aircraft as their personal toys — a very expensive toy, I might add.”
It sounds like Coble might be onto something if Obama has traveled more than all but one of the 43 presidents before him. As Coble notes, Air Force One costs $179,000 an hour. Yet that doesn’t include the hundreds of people who must mobilize for every presidential trip, plus the additional aircraft and other logistical expenses. Coble emphasizes that the president should be more discretionary in his travels because of the huge national debt and continuing deficit.
We don’t need a president galloping around the world, do we? Can’t Obama show some traveling restraint like Chester Arthur? Let’s hope not.
The world of 2013 is vastly different than it was just 20 or 30 years ago. More and more what happens in foreign countries affects the United States. World leaders regularly visit face to face. In the past, those visits were rare or nonexistent. It is also a lot easier to travel on a jet than it used to be on a ship.
Coble’s suggestion fits the old adage of penny wise and pound foolish. Restraints placed on presidential travel may negatively impact the U.S. diplomatically, economically and militarily. This isn’t the same world that it was in 1906 when Teddy Roosevelt became the first president to travel internationally on a visit to the Panama Canal.
Claiming that Obama has traveled more than all but one president is a gross distortion of history. The first 25 presidents never left the United States. The next six traveled by ship. Woodrow Wilson even spent seven months in Europe after World War I. Franklin Roosevelt was the first to travel by plane during his summits with Churchill and Stalin. From that point, presidential travel slowly increased through Reagan.
During George H.W. Bush’s presidency, Air Force One was upgraded to a Boeing 747. Bush inaugurated the era of the modern traveling president. By the end of his presidency, he was the most traveled president ever. That honor didn’t last long. Bill Clinton smashed Bush’s record. Clinton traveled to 75 countries. George W. Bush nearly matched that with 74 countries.
Whether Obama ends up with 70 or 80 countries that he has visited is insignificant. He isn’t on pace to travel anymore extensively than his two predecessors. Anyone who thinks a president needs to stay in the White House more has either a political axe to grind or needs to get their head out of the nineteenth century.
The deficit remains a concern, but it is dropping significantly. Trillion dollar deficits look like a thing of the past, but the deficits are still running in the hundreds of billions. Obama staying in the White House will not reduce that and may even make things worse by not forging new economic ties with the rest of the world.
Coble’s been in Congress since 1985. He has seen the explosion in presidential travel. He should understand its importance. If he didn’t like it, then he should have started raising red flags when the elder Bush took the air at an unprecedented rate. There is no record that Coble did that, which makes his complaining now sound more like politics than frugality.