Surprise: State Dinners Are Not Cheap

Posted: Feb 11, 2014 12:00 PM
Surprise: State Dinners Are Not Cheap

First of all, this isn’t necessarily a dig at the president. The truth is that American presidents have honored dignitaries and foreign heads of state at the White House since at least the 19th century. So the president honoring President Francois Hollande of France this evening at an official state dinner is hardly unusual. In fact, it’s rather routine and perhaps even expected.

But at the same time, the cost of the pomp and pageantry is somewhat concerning. Take a look at these numbers, courtesy of CBS News:

In response to a Freedom of Information request to which it took the State Department 13 months to respond, CBS News has obtained the Office of Protocol’s expense calculations for the first five state dinners of the Obama presidency.

  1. Nov. 24, 2009 – State dinner for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of India. $572,187.36
  2. May 19, 2010 – State dinner for President Felipe Calderon of Mexico. $563,479.92
  3. Jan. 19, 2011 – State dinner for President Hu Jintao of China. $412,329.73.
  4. June 7, 2011 – State dinner for Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany. $215,883.36
  5. Oct. 13, 2011 – State dinner for President Lee Myung-bak of South Korea. $203,053.34

We’re still waiting to hear back from the U.S. State Department about how much British Prime Minister David Cameron’s official visit cost taxpayers back in 2012. Surprise.

Tonight will be the seventh state dinner the Obamas have hosted at the White House.

Parting question: Do you think state dinners are anachronistic and a waste of time? That is, should a country drowning in debt and suffering from persistently high unemployment waste hundreds of thousands of dollars in a single evening just to honor and accommodate foreign leaders? Or is the state dinner an important part of American statecraft, and therefore necessary for kindling and rekindling alliances with foreign powers?