President Donald Trump’s Fourth of July “Salute to America” event will cost taxpayers millions of dollars, but the administration will not reveal the full cost of the event until after it has concluded.
The event will be paid for by the Defense Department and the Interior Department.
The Pentagon did not provide an estimate for the cost of the event, which will include military jets and tanks. The Washington Post reported that the Defense Department is using “creative accounting” to figure out how to cover the costs.
When Trump proposed holding a military parade in Washington DC in 2018, defense officials estimated the event would cost $92 million, including $50 million from the Pentagon, CNBC reported last year.
Conservative estimates using Pentagon flight-cost estimates show that the aerial show, which will feature two dozen military aircraft, will total in the millions, according to The Post. Based on those estimates, the B-2 bomber could cost $700,000, two F-22s fighters are estimated to cost around $300,000, the Blue Angels jets are expected to cost around $320,000, and two F-35 jets could cost upward of $660,000.
It remains unclear how much it cost the military to ship two M1A2 Abrams tanks on rail cars from Georgia to DC, as well as other military vehicles that will be used in the event. A White House aide told USA Today that the preliminary estimate of transporting the tanks was about $870,000.
That’s just the military portion of the event. At least $2.5 million will be redirected from the National Park Service to pay for the event, which will be held at the Lincoln Memorial, The Washington Post reported earlier this week. The funds would normally be used to improve national parks.
Denis Galvin, the former deputy director of the Park Service, told The Post that the entire July 4 celebration at the National Mall usually costs the agency around $2 million.
Democrats accused Trump of creating a “slush fund” by moving the park funds.
“Using National Park entrance fees to pay for this display of pageantry is absolutely outrageous,” said Minnesota Democratic Rep. Betty McCollum, who sits on the House Appropriations Committee. “These fees are not a slush fund for this administration to use at will. They are meant to improve our national parks, keep them safe and protected for Americans to enjoy, and are clearly not to be used for a political rally.”
Democrats have also complained about the lack of transparency related to the costs of the event.
“We haven’t heard anything,” New Mexico Sen. Tom Udall, the ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies, told NPR. “It’s disturbing.”
There is one area where the administration found a way to save some money. The fireworks display, which is estimated to cost around $750,000, will be free after Phantom Fireworks and Fireworks by Grucci donated fireworks for the festivities.
ABC News reported that Phantom Fireworks CEO Bruce Zoldan met with President Trump last month to discuss how the administration’s proposed tariffs on China would be “devastating” to his business. The company’s fireworks donation was announced on the same day that Trump decided to hold off on imposing a new round of tariffs on Chinese goods, including fireworks.
Pentagon: We Won’t Know Cost Until After the Event
Pentagon spokesman Tom Crosson told The Post that each branch of the military will pay for its own aircraft and the final costs will not be determined until after the event.
A Pentagon official said that the Defense Department will “use existing allotments of training hours from the units involved, muddying the waters on what costs can be counted against the celebration,” The Post reported.
Defense budget expert Michael O’Hanlon of the Brookings Institution told the outlet that the Pentagon would have trouble justifying the cost if they claim that the air show is a replacement for training hours.
“If they’re trying to justify the money, it’s a fool’s errand to say this is just as good as any other training,” O’Hanlon said. “To the extent that it can be separated from Trump himself and be turned into a celebration of the country itself, the military maybe boosts its image, but it’s not a one-to-one replacement for other training activities.”
President Trump defended the costs of the event, arguing that it will be “very little compared to what it is worth.”
“We own the planes, we have the pilots, the airport is right next door (Andrews), all we need is the fuel,” he wrote on Twitter. “We own the tanks and all. Fireworks are donated by two of the greats. Nice!”
Fuel Costs Expected to Run in the Millions
The fuel that Trump referred to in the tweets will cost in the millions of dollars and the proximity of Andrews Air Force base will not lessen the costs.
The B-2 Spirit stealth bomber will not land at Andrews, a defense official told The Post, and will instead fly for several hours from Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri, do a flyover in Washington, and then return directly to Missouri. It’s unclear how long the trip will take but it the aircraft costs a whopping $140,000 per hour to fly.
The event will also feature the Blue Angels. The unit usually sends eight F/A-18 Hornets to events from Pensacola, Florida and each one costs $10,000 per hour to fly, so $80,000 per hour in total. The Post noted that a C-130 aircraft, nicknamed “Fat Albert,” also travels with the Blue Angels but the cost of operating it is unclear.
The show is also expected to feature Air Force One, which costs around $205,000 per hour, according to NPR.
The cost of flying the F-35 can be around $20,000 or more per hour.
Democrats Say Trump Diverting Money From Military is ‘Shameful’
Democrats hit out at Trump for using military funds for his event.
South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg, an Afghanistan veteran running for president, criticized the use of military funds while speaking on the campaign trail.
“This business of diverting money and military assets to use them as some kind of prop, to prop up a presidential ego, is not reflecting well on our country,” he said, according to The Associated Press.
New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez called the spending “shameful” on Twitter.
“But sure, let’s throw a taxpayer-funded rally so Trump can brag about the President’s military power while @SenateGOP continues to block funds to pay medical costs for 9/11 first responders,” he wrote.
A group of Democratic lawmakers sent a letter to the Interior Department calling for an accounting of the costs associated with the event.
“The American people deserve to know how much of their money the president is spending to turn their July 4th celebration into a de facto campaign rally. All reports indicate that the president is planning to turn a national day of unity into a day of vanity – trying to use the military for political purposes and doling out perks to his political backers – at the taxpayers’ expense. We need answers,” the letter said.