WASHINGTON – President Bush's second inauguration will cost tens of millions of dollars — $40 million alone in private donations for the balls, parade and other invitation-only parties. With that kind of money, what could you buy?
• 200 armored Humvees with the best armor for troops in Iraq.
• Vaccinations and preventive health care for 22 million children in regions devastated by the tsunami.
• A down payment on the nation's deficit, which hit a record-breaking $412 billion last year.
Weeks ago, the inauguration and its accompanying costs were considered a given, an historic ceremony with all the pomp, pageantry and celebrations that the nation had come to expect every four years.
But a recent confluence of events — the tsunami natural disaster, Bush's warning about Social Security finances and the $5 billion-a-month price tag for the war in Iraq — have many Americans now wondering why spend the money the second time around.
While the Presidential Inaugural Committee (search) hopes to raise $40 million in private donations for the balls, parades and candlelight dinners for high-roller donors, millions of government dollars will be spent on construction of the platform and stands at the Capitol, police overtime, military personnel and the tightest security for the first post-Sept. 11 inaugural.
The questions have come from Bush supporters and opponents: Do we need to spend this money on what seems so extravagant?
New York Rep. Anthony Weiner, a Democrat, suggested inaugural parties should be scaled back, citing as a precedent Roosevelt's inauguration during World War II.
"President Roosevelt held his 1945 inaugural at the White House, making a short speech and serving guests cold chicken salad and plain pound cake," according to a letter from Weiner and Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Wash. "During World War I, President Wilson did not have any parties at his 1917 inaugural, saying that such festivities would be undignified."
Lawmakers representing the Washington area have complained to the White House about the District of Columbia not getting enough federal help to cover the estimated $17.3 million security costs of the inaugural.
Organizers of the inaugural defended the celebration.
"The inauguration of a United States president is one of America's greatest traditions, a tradition that transcends partisan politics," said Tracey Schmitt, a spokeswoman for the Presidential Inaugural Committee. "Our theme is celebrating freedom and honoring service."
She cited the Commander in Chief inaugural ball that offers free tickets to service members back from Afghanistan and Iraq and their family members. That ball is one of nine; the other eight require a ticket.
"Every inaugural there's a really good reason given why you should spend whatever donors are sending in on something else," said Rich Galen, a veteran Republican activist, saying many of the complaints come from the losers of the election.
Billionaire Mark Cuban, owner of the National Basketball Association's Dallas Mavericks, voted for Bush — twice. Cuban knows a thing or two about big spending, once starring in ABC's reality TV show, "The Benefactor," in which 16 contenders tried to pass his test for success and win $1 million.
Cuban questioned spending all that money on the inaugural.
"As a country, we face huge deficits. We face a declining economy. We have service people dying. We face responsibilities to help those suffering from the ... devastation of the tsunamis," he wrote on his blog, a Web journal.
Cuban challenged Bush to set an example: "Start by canceling your inauguration parties and festivities."