— -- Now comes complainant Republican National Committee, snark firing on all cylinders, formally requesting that a government auditor look into whether President Barack Obama has been bilking taxpayers by billing them for what amount to campaign trips to battleground states. The White House immediately dismissed the suggestion of any impropriety.
RNC Chairman Reince Priebus's letter to Comptroller General Gene Dodaro of the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the investigative arm of Congress, caps an escalating campaign of complaints by Republicans about Obama's election-year travel.
"On behalf of American taxpayers, I am writing to call your attention to a case of misuse of government funds," Priebus says in the letter's opening sentence.
The controversy centers on the arcane process by which taxpayers pick up the tab for "official" trips while the president's reelection campaign or the Democratic National Committee pays for "political" travel. When a presidential foray includes both kinds of events, the cost is divided according to a formula that presidents have declined to make public. It is common for the party that does not hold the White House to complain about this part of the incumbent's "bully pulpit." And it is common for the White House to label travel trips with heavy political overtones as "official." The RNC chief knocks Obama's just-completed trip to North Carolina, Colorado and Iowa to push Congress to keep interest rates on some popular student loans from soaring. "One might imagine that if this were genuinely a government event, he might have stopped in a non-battleground state like Texas or Vermont." A White House official quickly noted that Obama's schedule calls for a trip to Georgia on Friday.
Of an Obama trip to Florida two weeks ago, Priebus sniffs that "it was low on substance that would benefit the populace at large."
"Understandably, much of your time may be currently occupied investigating the lavish taxpayer-funded General Services Administration vacation," he quips, but taxpayers "are being cheated by their government."
The White House, which has repeatedly dismissed such complaints, did so again Wednesday.
"This week's travel has been part of the President's official responsibility to get outside of Washington, DC, hear from students, and discuss stopping interest rates on their loans from doubling in July — just like Friday's trip to Fort Stewart in Hinesville, Georgia to meet with troops, veterans, and military families is likewise part of the President's official responsibilities. When there is political travel, we follow all rules and regulations that all other administrations have followed," said spokesman Eric Schultz.
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