In the White House, Obama pays for his toothpaste
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There was no free lunch for President Barack Obama on Thanksgiving Day. Or any other day.
He had to dig into his pocket to pay for his holiday feast. The meal included turkey, ham, two kinds of stuffing, sweet and regular potatoes. The dessert included six 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. The staff oversaw operations and maintenance. But presidents continued to pay for personal expenses.
For the budget year that ended Sept. 30, Congress gave the White House $19,000 to pay for official receptions. It provided $12.7 million to cover operating expenses for the residence. Those may include entertainment. The cost of meals for some White House events is picked up by the State Department or political parties. Those include state dinners and receptions.
White House chefs who prepare the president's meals are paid by the government.
Presidents and first ladies can't easily pop into the neighborhood drug store. So a White House 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 such private events, presidents pay for food and beverages. They also pay for 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. A copy is sent to the president and first lady each month. The bill lists all the food and beverages consumed by the first family and personal guests.
The president then pays back the government.
Presidents are paid $400,000 a year. They also receive a $50,000 allowance to help pay costs associated with carrying out official duties. The government pays for the rent at the White House, transportation, security and medical care.