Tue, Jan 18, 2005 - Page 7 News List

Critics frown on Bush's US$ 140m inaugural parade

AFP , WASHINGTON

US National Guard troops line Pennsylvania Avenue during an inaugural parade rehearsal Sunday in Washington, DC. US President George W. Bush will be sworn in for a second term Jan. 20 amid unprecedented security.

PHOTO: AFP

Critics are calling on US President George W. Bush to scale back the glittering multi-million dollar parties planned this week in honor of his second-term inauguration, saying lavish festivities are unseemly at a time of war.

Bush is to be sworn in on Thursday and feted with four days of pomp and party-going at a pricetag of about US$40 million.

An unprecedented military presence and other security measures will add another US$100 million to the cost, to pay for everything from police overtime wages to reviewing stands stretching from the US Capitol building to the White House.

But critics insist that with US troops dying daily in Iraq, the tone surrounding this year's celebration should be more modest.

"I would have hoped they would have followed the traditions of President Wilson and President Roosevelt, who at a time of war had a very muted celebration," said Democratic Representative Robert Menendez, speaking on CNN on Sunday.

"I think when young men and women are dying we should think about the reality of how we conduct ourselves here at home," he added.

His comments echoed those of Democratic Representative Anthony Weiner, who, in a letter to Bush earlier this month, urged the president to redirect some of the US$40 million "towards a use more fitting to these somber times -- bonuses or equipment for our troops."

Inauguration committee officials however, point out that the theme of the fete -- "Celebrating Freedom, Honoring Service" -- already honors the US military, as well as the president's role as commander-in-chief.

Bush told reporters last week he sees no problem with either how the money is raised or how it is spent, noting that it has all been raised with private donations.

"There's no taxpayer money involved in this," he said, brushing aside calls that some of the funds be channeled to South Asia for tsunami relief.

"A lot of the people who are coming here to the inauguration have given" to tsunami victims, Bush said.

"I think it's important to celebrate a peaceful transfer of power ... I'm looking forward to the celebration," he told reporters.

Critics also noted that donations for the events mostly come from large corporations with enormous regulatory and policy interests in Washington, and say potentially serious conflicts of interest exist.

Dozens of corporate contributors have donated US$250,000 each -- the self-imposed maximum donation accepted by the inauguration planning committee.

Republicans said the entire brouhaha over the cost of the inauguration and the source of the money was the latest example of Democratic sour grapes for having failed to recapture the White House after a hard-fought election campaign.

A slightly more circumspect Republican lawmaker, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, said on Sunday that inaugurations are meant to be celebrated in grand style -- whichever party wins the White House.

"I think it's a very important event, whether it's a Republican or Democrat president that's going to be inaugurated, because it's really a celebration of the presidency, of the office," she said.

And while the mood among members of Bush's Republican party will be celebratory, the sobriety of the occasion will perhaps not be forgotten in the revelry, she added.

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