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 for that matter.

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 that a president pays for meals for himself, his family and personal guests.

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

Gary Walters, who was chief White House usher for many years, said the payment rule dates back to 1800 when the White House was first occupied by President John Adams and 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 to oversee 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, which 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 during shopping runs and keep the bill for Obama.

Another cost is private parties, such as the 50th birthday bash Obama threw earlier this year 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 a copy to the president and another to the first lady by midmonth. It is itemized to account for all the food and beverages consumed by the first family and personal guests and includes invoices and receipts for those costs and other services.

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, chief historian at the White House Historical Association.

Presidents are paid $400,000 annually, plus 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?

Assigned 18 times


COMMENTS (29)
  • NW2000Basketball
    12/04/2014 - 08:42 a.m.

    It is because John Adams started the trend or tradition off by being the first person in the white house that brunt his staff with him paid for them and the things he needed as well.

  • jocelync-Koc
    12/04/2014 - 10:51 a.m.

    That's cool that the president has to pay his own personal things, i always thought he got free things since he is president. But i guess even the president has to pay for personal things like we do. Its very surprising the things we learn about Barack Obama but the more you know the better!

  • JuvenileJellyfish
    12/04/2014 - 02:04 p.m.

    Gasp! Obama pays for his toothpaste!? It's kind of weird that the president to pay for his meals, but in a way it does because it is his house and everyone that lives in their house has to pay for their own things.

  • symones-Koc
    12/04/2014 - 04:00 p.m.

    When somebody become a president I though they didn't have to pay for anything . I thought that anything they wanted they could get because they are in the White House.

  • KAnthony-Cas
    12/04/2014 - 07:45 p.m.

    I could really care less hearing about Obama buying his own toothpaste. But the the idea of former presidents buying there own meal is pretty interesting.

  • NickB-2
    12/04/2014 - 10:32 p.m.

    This artile is about the president, and his personal expenses. The president must pay for personal parties, meals, and toothpaste from his own pocket. He earns 400000 dollars annually but spends alot overall on personal expenses. I think this is not alright. The president is the president, so his expenses should ALL be payed for by the Govt.

  • NickB-2
    12/04/2014 - 10:32 p.m.

    This artile is about the president, and his personal expenses. The president must pay for personal parties, meals, and toothpaste from his own pocket. He earns 400000 dollars annually but spends alot overall on personal expenses. I think this is not alright. The president is the president, so his expenses should ALL be payed for by the Govt.

  • Aw2001soccer
    12/05/2014 - 12:59 p.m.

    he doesn't get freebies like that because he wants to be treated like everyone else and work for what he needs and provide his own things because he's an independent man

  • ratiaira
    12/05/2014 - 01:49 p.m.

    all this time i thought that he,the president didn't have to pay for any of that stuff like toothpaste,soap,towels i really thought that he would be handed to him because he is the president

  • AlexisKrise
    12/05/2014 - 01:59 p.m.

    The White House isn't a hotel that provides all the necessities that are needed for everyday life. It's about time that we learn that they aren't always stealing all of out money, because we all know that they do. It's getting tiring, having to pay for their expenses when all we get to do is hear about it one the news or read it in the paper. The White House isn't a hotel, otherwise he'd be paying to live there!

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