In the White House, Obama pays for his toothpaste
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: 930L

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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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Assigned 72 times

  • ksadat-5
    12/04/2014 - 07:51 p.m.

    Apparently, Obama has to pay for his meals, medicine, and entertainment just as the average person does. On Thanksgiving, Obama had to pay for his meal. Annually, the Congress pays twelve point seven million dollars for the residence of the white house so they can purchase food, toothpaste, entertainment, etc. Being the President of the United States of America, Obama is annually paid four hundred thousand dollars to use for his own personal needs.

    I never really thought of this. I can't believe that Obama, like the every day person, pays for all his expenses including his toiletries. Obama had to pay for his Thanksgiving dinner. Just out of what I have learned in the past, I had assumed that the White House and the Government covered all of the expenses that had to be paid.

  • ChaseG-5
    12/04/2014 - 09:31 p.m.

    This article is about how presidents actually pay for their personal expenses. The president receives $400,000 a year and about $12 million is spent on operating expenses for the White House. Presidents and first ladies actually have people go to the store for them but they still have to pay for it. The government pays for many things such as the rent of the White House, transportation, security, and medical care. The president has to pay for anything that is personal, his family, and other house guests. I find it interesting that the president has to pay for everything this is personal. I also think that it is cool that even though he is the president, he still has to pay for stuff just like us.

  • KeaganB-1
    12/04/2014 - 10:23 p.m.

    The president has to pay bills for himself just like us. The president must pay for common household items like shampoo, Food, toothpaste and other common items. Of course the president can't just go out and buy this stuff so a staff member do it for him. Parties throw by the president he also must pay for but other activities like state dinners are paid by the government. So for Thanksgiving the president had to buy his meal. This article is very interesting.

  • Eugene0808-YYCA
    12/04/2014 - 10:54 p.m.

    I think no one has the right to get things for free just because they are the authority of the nation. Also, everyone has to pay for things anyways, including rent and monthly bills. No one should be able to pay nothing for it. It's good because everyone has to pay for their own things so it would be fair to everyone. It wouldn't be fair for everyone if only one person gets everything for free. That would be awful. There could be protests, there could be riots, anything can happen.
    Critical thinking challenge: Most hotels provide soap and shampoo for free. Why doesn't Obama get freebies like these in the White House?
    Answer: Obama doesn't get freebies like these in the White House because he chooses to buy and pay for his own things.

  • ConnorK-2
    12/05/2014 - 12:17 a.m.

    Seems that the president and his family do some things other normal people would do. The president of the united states has to pay for his toothpaste and many other basic equipment for bodily hygiene. They also have to pay for their meals. This year, like many others, the president and his family had to pay for their thanksgiving dinner. There are some occasions where the president doesn't have to pay. when their are special presidential events the chefs at the white house make all the food. If the president asks someone to go to a local store he has to pay them back. I love hearing that people of high stature also do normal human activities.

  • LucasH-3
    12/05/2014 - 12:24 a.m.

    Presidents have to pay for their own food. They also have to pay for other basics around the house such as toothpaste. On Thanksgiving, President Obama had to pay for his own personal feast, as well as for the rest of his family. A chief historian at the White House says that it's "a tradition" for presidents to pay for their own meals and personal items. The government does pay for the rent, transportation, security, and medical care though.

  • brandkelly
    12/05/2014 - 12:57 a.m.

    in this article you learn about how present Obama has to pay for his own toothpaste in the White House it's crazy to think that a man of such power and wealth has to pay for such a little miniscule things like toothpaste soap and hair gel etc.

  • sophies-4
    12/05/2014 - 01:03 a.m.

    This article is about how president Obama and the first family have to pay for everything that is personal. You would think that meals are paid for for the first family, but they aren't. They come out of President Obama's wallet. From personal items like toothpaste or shampoo to Michelle Obama's 50th birthday party, the white house does not cover it for the first family. This rule goes back to 1800 with President John Adams. I think this rule is good because the president and the first family should pay for mostly everything that citizens pay for. I also think that some of the things should be payed for from the congress because being the president is a really hard job.

  • allies-4
    12/05/2014 - 01:36 a.m.

    In the White House the President is pampered, but not all that much. For Mr. Obama everything is NOT served on a silver platter, he has to pay for stuff like every American. The items Obama pay for range from toothpaste to private parties, and food. Although you will never just run in to Mr. President at any local store, he has an assistant hired to go run errands and then the bill is given back to him to pay. It would be pretty cool to be the president, you have a house for free, and you still get the real human perspective on life. Why doesn't the president get free bathroom amenities?

  • JohnL-4
    12/05/2014 - 01:46 a.m.

    The president has to pay for all basics such as meals and toiletries. In fact, they paid for all personal expenses. The president does have assistants go to the drugstore for him to pick up his items he needs, but Obama pays for the bill later. The things they don't pay for are special government dinners, and housing. I think this article is interesting because it puts a different perspective on presidency, and informs people that the president isn't waited on hand and foot.

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