In the White House, Obama pays for his toothpaste President Obama flashes his smile (AP photo / Thinkstock)
In the White House, Obama pays for his toothpaste
Lexile

There was no free lunch or breakfast or dinner for President Barack Obama on Thanksgiving Day. Or any other day.

He had to dig into his pocket to pay for his holiday feast of turkey, ham, two kinds of stuffing, sweet and regular potatoes and six different kinds of pie. It's a longstanding practice. A president pays for meals for himself, his family and personal guests.

Obama also pays for other basics. Those include everything from toothpaste to dry cleaning.

Gary Walters was chief White House usher for many years. He said the payment rule dates back to 1800. That's when the White House was first occupied by President John Adams. There was no staff. Presidents brought staff with them and paid for everything.

Congress gradually began spending money to maintain an official White House staff. They oversaw operations and maintenance. But presidents continued to pay for personal expenses.

What it boils down to, Walters said, is that the White House is first and foremost the president's home.

"All those things that are personal in nature that we all pay for, the first family pays for," he said.

For the budget year that ended Sept. 30, Congress gave the White House $19,000 to pay for official receptions and $12.7 million to cover operating expenses for the residence. Those expenses may include entertainment. The cost of meals for some White House events, including state dinners and receptions, is picked up by the State Department or political parties.

White House chefs who prepare the president's meals are paid by the government.

Since presidents and first ladies can't easily pop into the neighborhood drug store, a White House residence staff member will pick up things like toothpaste and deodorant. The staff member will keep the bill for Obama.

Another cost is private parties. One was the 50th birthday bash Obama threw for first lady Michelle Obama. For private events, presidents pay for food and beverages, use of waiters and servers, and setup and cleanup crews. Taxpayers are only supposed to pay for official government functions.

The White House usher's office prepares a detailed bill and sends it to the president and another to the first lady each month. It lists all the food and beverages consumed by the first family and personal guests.

The president then reimburses the government.

"It's just the tradition and it's continued on through time that the presidents will pay for their own food and, I guess, if they needed something for the house that was personal. Toothpaste, cologne or whatever," said William Bushong. He is chief historian at the White House Historical Association.

Presidents are paid $400,000 a year. They receive a $50,000 allowance to help defray costs associated with carrying out official duties. The government pays for the rent at the White House, transportation, security and medical care.

Critical thinking challenge: Most hotels provide soap and shampoo for free. Why doesn't Obama get freebies like these in the White House?

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COMMENTS (97)
  • 21jmborm
    12/04/2014 - 11:54 a.m.

    If he got it from the store he should of payed for it. But at the White House, you shouldn't, unless he has to pay for toothpaste from the store. I can't believe the president of the united states would pay for toothpaste IN the White House. I would pay for toothpaste to keep my teeth white. I don't really need the toothpaste though

  • NickC35
    12/04/2014 - 12:53 p.m.

    The president helps us in many ways and lives a risky life in many ways. He deserves what he gets, but that does not mean we should not pay for it. He has an extremely important job and is paid 400,000 dollars a year but, Mr. Obama is more than capable than paying for simple household needs such as tooth paste, and cleaning detergent.

  • DaltonB3
    12/04/2014 - 12:53 p.m.

    I think obama should have to pay for all his tooth past and stuff like that because hes the president hes not getting any spacial treatment. in hotels you do pay for soap and stuff like that its added to the end bill like in the mini fridge.

  • ma2000dragonball
    12/04/2014 - 01:00 p.m.

    Obama probably doesn't get those things for free because the white house is home, not a five-star hotel. Sure the white house is a big place, and home to the president because it isn't a hotel , it is home for four years.

  • clairedoucet
    12/04/2014 - 01:03 p.m.

    Personally, if I were president I would pay for my family and myself just like Obama does. Everyone thinks that since he's the president he shouldn't have to pay for anything himself. He is like any other person just with a different job that lets him have a little more money than anyone else. I believe it's just fair to everyone else that he pays for himself and reimburses the government if they do pay for him.

  • IM2000food
    12/04/2014 - 01:11 p.m.

    Obama doesn't get freebies because he is the president and people feel like he should be treated normal just like you and me and pay for his on things just like you and me would.

  • maddie.4
    12/04/2014 - 02:06 p.m.

    I think that it's a good thing the president must pay for personal things, I don't think it would be right if tax payers would be paying for the presidents food.

  • DylanM-4
    12/04/2014 - 04:58 p.m.

    Everybody has to pay for the costs of living, even the president. President Obama has to pay for all food he, the first family, and private guests consume. He is also responsible for paying for everyday things such as deodorant, shampoo, and toothpaste. It is a tradition that started in the 1800s where the president has to pay for all personal expenses. Although taxes pay for the white house rent, transportation, security, and medical care. This is a smart move by the earliest presidents, because if the average person has to pay for things themselves, they shouldn't pay for the president.

  • SadieB-1
    12/04/2014 - 07:22 p.m.

    Being the president doesn't mean you get free food. Obama still must pay for his food, dry cleaning, and toiletries, like toothpaste. White House chefs are paid by the government and staff members pick up the toiletries. Also the government pays for the food and entertainment for parties, but Obama still has to pay them back. The White House rent, transportation, medical care, and protection is also payed for by the Government. Obama gets paid $400,000 per year. I think it's funny that Obama is so famous and well-known, but still pays for toothpaste. I also never thought that the White House would have property taxes.

  • OliviaV-3
    12/04/2014 - 07:30 p.m.

    This article was all about Obama in the White House, and what he has to pay for. He is just like everyone, and has to pay for everything from toothpaste to cologne. Also, he has to pay rent which I just learned and thought was weird. If he needs to get something from a drugstore, a staff member will go buy it, and the bill will be given to Obama. I liked this article because I was always wondering things like does the president have to pay rent at the White House. It was very informative and I realized the president and his family are actually just like everyone else.

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