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No expense spared at 2004 inauguration

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No expense spared at inauguration
By Kevin Anderson
BBC News website, Washington

With an estimated price tag of $40m, the three-day celebration that is President Bush's second inauguration will be the most expensive ever.

The lavish dinners, parties and fireworks began on Tuesday and will continue through his swearing-in on Thursday, followed by a parade and nine official inaugural balls.

The cost will be paid by individual and corporate donations, while the city of Washington is being asked to pay for an estimated $17m in security costs.

Some have criticised the expense, questioning the propriety of a flashy celebration as US troops are dying in Iraq and South Asia still recovers from last month's deadly tsunami.

The overt criticism of an inauguration is unusual, but a Washington Post poll found that a majority of Americans would prefer a smaller, more subdued event.

Big money donors

The biggest ticket will be on Wednesday at the Texas State Society's Black Tie & Boots Ball.

Preparations were well underway on Tuesday to prepare 21,000 enchiladas, 20,000 quesadillas, 25,000 pastries, and 3,000 lbs (1,360kg) of beef barbeque.

Festivities have already begun: On Tuesday, Mr Bush paid tribute to the military's men and women with a free concert.

"As we prepare to celebrate our nation's 55th presidential inauguration, I can think of no better way to begin than by giving thanks for our freedom and those who make it possible," President Bush told a crowd of 7,000.

The free event was part of the military focus, but it was also used by inaugural organisers to deflect criticism of the inauguration as overly extravagant.

On Wednesday evening, President Bush will host three candlelight dinners with the individual and corporate donors who helped pay for the festivities.

The list of donors is full of big-name corporations and top Bush fundraisers - the campaign's "pioneers", who raised $100,000, and the "rangers", who raised $250,000.

Political reform advocates say the corporations stand to benefit from Mr Bush's proposed energy policy, his efforts to reform immigration and proposals to partially convert Social Security, a state pension scheme, into private investment accounts.

Defence giants Northrop Grumman and Lockheed Martin each gave $100,000 to the inaugural committee, and oil companies ChevronTexaco and Exxon Mobil each gave $250,000.

Both Coca-Cola and its rival Pepsi gave $100,000, and the Marriot and Ritz-Carlton hotel groups each gave $250,000.

Those who contribute $250,000 will receive tickets to a number of events over the celebration, including the swearing-in ceremony, the inaugural parade, and an exclusive luncheon with President Bush and Vice-President Dick Cheney.

And they will receive tickets to one of the nine balls marking the inauguration.

While numerous, the number of balls is five shy of the record 14 balls held for Bill Clinton on the night of his second inauguration in 1997.

Inaugural critics

But with the recent tsunami in the Indian Ocean and the ongoing war in Iraq, some think the expensive inaugural is an inappropriate, ostentatious display.

"Precedent suggests that inaugural festivities should be muted if not cancelled - in wartime," New York Democrat Representative Anthony Weiner said in a letter to President Bush.

He noted the money could be used to buy 690 Humvees and pay for a $290 bonus for each soldier serving in Iraq.

And city officials in Washington are complaining that for the first time the city and not the US government is being asked to foot the bill for the security operations.

Some Republicans say that criticism of the inauguration is mere political partisanship and ask why there was no criticism of the cost of President Clinton's inaugurations.

Bill Clinton's first inauguration cost $30m, which was comparable to the inaugural costs of George HW Bush in 1989. His second inauguration cost $23.6m.

But a Washington Post-ABC News poll found that two-thirds of Americans think inaugural festivities should be scaled back, and that includes half of those who voted for President Bush and 80% of John Kerry's supporters.

President Bush defended the pomp and parties saying in an interview with US network CBS: "You can be equally concerned about our troops in Iraq and those who suffered in the tsunami while celebrating democracy."

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