Coulter should have stuck with “no comment” on DC inaugural costs

After stating that she didn't know about the Bush administration's refusal to reimburse the District of Columbia for costs associated with the presidential inauguration, and therefore she couldn't comment on it, right-wing pundit Ann Coulter went on to remark: “This is the first I've heard that, but I know it's not true. There's something that's wrong.” But, as Fox News host Alan Colmes responded to Coulter's assertion: “Well, it is true, Ann. Unfortunately, it is true.”

According to a January 11 report in The Washington Post, District of Columbia officials stated on January 10 that “the Bush administration is refusing to reimburse the District for most of the costs associated with next week's inauguration, breaking with precedent and forcing the city to divert $11.9 million from homeland security projects.” Administration officials told the District to cover inauguration expenses by using some of the $240 million in federal homeland security grants that the District received “because it is among the places at highest risk of a terrorist attack.”

Congressional aides told the Post that last year the District unsuccessfully sought an increase in the annual security reimbursement fund of $10 million to pay for 2005 inauguration expenses, while both New York City and Boston were able to obtain $50 million from Congress to cover local security costs for the 2004 national political conventions.

DC Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) has estimated that the inauguration will cost the city a total of $17.3 million, primarily for security, the Post also noted. And while the city can use an unspent $5.4 million to offset the cost, taken from a federal fund that reimburses the District for costs incurred because of its status as the capital, a gap of $11.9 million will remain, as Williams stated in a December 27 letter to the Office of Management and Budget Director Joshua B. Bolten and Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge.

Williams's estimate of $17.3 million in security costs for the 2005 inauguration is nearly three times as much as the cost to the District for the 2001 inauguration, which was just under $6 million according to a January 11 Washington Times report. That money was reimbursed by Congress in accordance with the 1973 District of Columbia Home Rule Act, which states in part:

The United States shall reimburse the District for necessary expenses incurred by the District in connection with assemblages, marches, and other demonstrations in the District which relate primarily to the federal government. The manner and method of ascertaining and paying the amounts needed to so reimburse the District shall be determined by agreement entered into in accordance with subsection (a) of this section.

While the federal government has historically reimbursed DC's inaugural costs through an appropriation, “this year the Bush administration has decided to break from that practice,” according to a January 11 Washington Post editorial. OMB spokesman Chad Kolton has stated that no additional appropriation is needed for the inauguration: “We think that an appropriate balance of money from [the annual reimbursement] fund and from homeland security grants is the most effective way to cover the additional cost the city incurs.”

According to a January 10 Associated Press story, a spokesman for Representative Tom Davis (R-VA) called the administration's refusal to reimburse the District “an unfunded mandate of the worst sort. How can you ask the district to take funds from important homeland security projects to pay for this instead?” The spokesman added, however: “We think at the end of the day, OMB will see the light and realize that the district needs supplemental money to pay for this.”

From the January 11 edition of FOX News Channel's Hannity & Colmes:

COLMES: [T]he Bush administration, it turns out -- we find out today, refuses to reimburse the city of the District of Columbia for inaugural costs forcing them to go into the homeland security budget to the tune of $11.9 million from homeland security. Good idea or bad idea?


COULTER: I don't know what you're talking about, so I can't really comment on it.


COULTER: Wait a minute, I think you've just given me additional information on this. You're talking about they're using homeland security [money] for homeland security the same way they did at the Democratic National Convention and the Republican National Convention.

COLMES: No, no -- let me correct you on that, Ann, you're wrong. The District anticipates spending $8.8 million in overtime pay for DC police because of the inauguration, $2.7 million to pay a thousand-plus officers sent by other jurisdictions across the country because of the inauguration.

COULTER: Right. But they're not spending it on balloons.

COLMES: This is not a homeland security issue --

COULTER: Of course it is.

COLMES: This is directly related to the inauguration of the president.

COULTER: Right. The same way there was additional protection in Boston during the Democratic National Convention and in New York during the Republican National Convention.

COLMES: But it was not passed on to the city of Boston --

COULTER: The way you phrased it made it sound like they were spending it on, you know, balloons.

COLMES: But the DNC paid for it. It wasn't passed on to the city. That's what's going on here. And this city is being told, “Take it out of your homeland security budget.”

COULTER: This is the first I've heard that, but I know it's not true. There's something that's wrong.

COLMES: Well, it is true, Ann. Unfortunately, it is true.