By Laurence J. Kotlikoff
August 25, 2017

The Secret Service is almost broke. Come the end of September, it will be out of money. Will Congress legislate to the rescue? It’s unclear, given the incredibly divisive relationship between the two ends of Pennsylvania Avenue.

Presidents, their families, and their staffs indeed do need protection. But President Donald Trump has stretched the limit of propriety when it comes to security spending, as he’s stretched so many other limits.

His administration has ordered the Secret Service to protect 35% more people than his predecessor’s did. This includes overseeing the security of his sons as they make business trips all over the globe to improve the Trump family’s bottom line. One example is Eric Trump’s trip in January to Uruguay to promote the Punta del Esta Trump property. The taxpayer’s tab was over $100,000. Another example is Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump’s recent skiing trip.

As for the president himself, he spent over $20 million of our money on his trips to Mar-a-Lago between January and April alone. Former President Barack Obama’s security costs over eight years totaled less than $100 million. Why not go to Camp David, the presidential retreat, which is far less expensive? It is, apparently, not good enough for this president. Here are his words on the subject: “Yea, Camp David is very rustic, it’s nice, you’d like it. You know how long you’d like it? For about 30 minutes.”

Usually presidents reside at the White House and recreate primarily at Camp David, which limits the number of locations the Secret Service has to watch and protect. Trump, in contrast, flips between two Trump resorts, the White House, and Trump Tower in New York. The daily security costs for Trump Tower alone are estimated to be between $127,000 and $146,000, or roughly $50 million per year.

No one, to my knowledge, has put together a formal estimate of the extra federal, state, and local security costs of this president. But I wouldn’t be surprised if it totaled a quarter billion dollars per year. That’s enough money to properly feed our 13 million children who are living in hunger every day.

To resolve this problem, Congress should pass a bill in September that entails dollar-for-dollar cost-sharing once the president’s security budget exceeds the annual amount dictated by historical norms. This is not only a question of costs. The president and his family are clearly mixing the nation’s business with their own. Whether this rises to the level of corrupt practices is something for investigative bodies to decide. If Congress authorizes an increase in the Secret Service’s budget without considering the Trump family’s clear conflict of interest, it will, potentially, be aiding and abetting corrupt practices and, potentially, be breaking the law. For example, Trump’s decision to charge the Secret Service $60,000 for the use of Mar-a-Lago golf carts over the past nine months is a direct transfer of money from the public to the Trumps’ pockets.

The Trump presidency’s flagrant and excessive misuse of taxpayer’s money for the president’s security would be a small cost were the country’s fiscal finances in decent shape. But that isn’t the case. The president is wasting the taxpayer’s money at a time when the country is too broke to properly fix health care, repair infrastructure, reform the tax system, adequately educate children, appropriately fund research, and, yes, even build Trump’s wall.

Trump didn’t put us into our truly terrible fiscal strait. Six decades of deceitful accounting by both parties are to blame. But this is certainly no time for him and his children to be wasting taxpayer money on fancy vacations and business trips to pad their pockets. It’s time for Congress to tell this set of freeloaders: The party’s over.

Laurence J. Kotlikoff is an economist at Boston University and president of Economic Security Planning, Inc.

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