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Good Question: Why Do We Spend So Much On Inaugurations?

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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – No matter whose hand is on the Bible or two Bibles, the inauguration of a President is an amazing American scene. But at an estimated $170 million for the swearing in, the parade, the lunch, and the inaugural balls, some people are asking questions about President Barack Obama.

“Why are we spending this money in inauguration when power isn’t really changing hands?” asked one caller.

“With all the issues we as a nation are having with the fiscal cliff, our debt and raising the debt ceiling,” emailed Brad Knudson from Prior Lake.

“Why would we have another inauguration for a President that has already had one? Isn’t that a waste of money? And who pays for it? How much does it cost?” asked Joyce Freitag from Bloomington.

But there is a price tag, of course. CBS News reported that taxpayers pay for the swearing in and the lunch. That has a budget of $1.2 million dollars, slightly less than Obama’s first inauguration in 2009.

“I think it’s a realistic and legitimate question to ask if it’s a good use of public money when people are hurting so much,” said Larry Jacobs, Director of the Center for the Study of Politics at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School for Public Affairs.

The fun stuff: the parade and the two huge inaugural balls are paid for privately. The Presidential Inaugural Committee is expected to raise about $40 million dollars in private donations from individuals and corporations.

But those numbers don’t include all the security costs. In 2009, an ABC News analysis had the government reimbursing more than $100 million to Washington DC, Maryland and Virginia for security.

“Inauguration is one of the few public opportunities to honor our democracy,” said Jacobs, “to remind Americans what we share together, particularly in a time we’re always being reminded on our differences,” he said.

Historically, some presidents have tried to dial down their inaugural festivities. Most recently, Jimmy Carter had a modest ball. Woodrow Wilson suspended the inaugural ball in 1913. He thought it was too expensive and showy. But since the 1950’s, the inauguration has typically been like a major wedding party for our new president.

“Some people just do justice of the peace, but then you want to do a party as you publicly embrace who you’re going to be living with,” said Jacobs.

If a second-term President should skip the festivities all together, that would be a serious break with tradition. After the bitterness of the campaign, taking a day to celebrate democracy has value.

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