Living large on the taxpayers' dime

| Sunday, April 7, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Behaving more like political royalty than “public servants,” Vice President Joe Biden and his entourage ran up a one-night tab of $459,388.65 in February in a London hotel, the five-star Hyatt Regency.

That's enough money to keep the White House tours open, at the federal government's reported cost of $74,000 a week, for six weeks.

Jacking up the extravagance, also in February, Biden's one-night tab in France at the five-star Hotel InterContinental Paris Le Grande was $585,000.50. Just the hotel expense for that one night was enough to pay for the re-opening of the White House tours for another eight weeks.

Biden's hotel tab for just two nights, in short, is equal to the entire cost of keeping the White House tours open for all of June, July and August — or the entire cost of stopping thousands of school kids from bellyaching because the White House is shut down for tours this year during their summer vacation.

And there's more. On top of Biden's $585,000 hotel bill for a night in Paris, courtesy of American taxpayers (or Chinese lenders), CNN's Wolf Blitzer uncovered a receipt to a limousine company for the Biden entourage in Paris for $321,665.

I think we need an auditor. They shouldn't even need a room if they're spending that much riding around. And even if these trips were necessary in an age of video conferencing, one-star hotels should have been more than sufficient given the level of performance we're getting from the federal government.

We don't have the tab yet, but it will likely be another half million or more for Biden's recent stop in Rome, where he, along with his sister, Valarie Biden Owens, got to meet the new pope just two days before the Federal Aviation Administration announced it was shutting down air traffic control towers because of a shortage of federal money.

Adding more red ink, President Obama flew to Denver last Wednesday to say nothing new about gun control and today he's scheduled to fly to Connecticut to say nothing new about gun control — nothing he couldn't say in the Rose Garden.

What's added to the federal deficit for the operation of Air Force One on these political jaunts is $179,750 per flight hour, according to the Congressional Research Service, and that's not counting the cost of cargo and passenger aircraft that frequently accompany the president's plane, or the costs of security and support staff.

For Obama's flights back and forth to Hawaii, the round-trip cost of just operating Air Force One is $3,271,626.

Starting yesterday, the FAA began shutting down 149 air traffic control towers at smaller airports in 46 states.

In Pennsylvania, that means pilots arriving and departing Capital City Airport in Harrisburg, Lancaster Airport in Lititz and Arnold Palmer Regional Airport in Latrobe will be more or less left to coordinate landings and takeoffs over shared radio frequencies with no help from controllers on the ground.

For an added measure of safety, it would be smart for passengers on window seats to put down their newspapers and keep their eyes peeled for any off-track Learjets or stray drones.

It also would be a good idea to take along some rosary beads that were blessed at Lourdes if you're flying at 600 mph on days with zero visibility.

Ralph R. Reiland is an associate professor of economics at Robert Morris University and a local restaurateur. His email:

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