Obama's Inaugural Dilemma: How to Party, Recession-Style

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President-elect Barack Obama will face a difficult balancing act when he puts on his tuxedo for his inaugural ball next month.

Obama will have every reason to be jubilant as he celebrates becoming America's first black president. But he also will need to temper his celebration and avoid appearing ostentatious as he takes office during what many are calling the nation's worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.

And that will require scaling back on spending for the inaugural ball -- a gala deep in tradition that has set the tone for every presidency.

President Bush held nine inaugural balls in 2005 -- the most expensive inauguration in U.S. history, costing $42.3 million in private money -- and first lady Laura Bush sported a different gown at each one.

Bill Clinton's inaugural festivities, which cost $33 million in 1993, were decorated with 1,000 floral centerpieces that alone required 250 hours of work. And Nancy Reagan wore a $100,000 gown to Ronald Reagan's three-hour inaugural gala, which featured Frank Sinatra, in 1981.

"We are mindful of the fact that people are really struggling right now in their lives, but on the other hand we see this as a real opportunity for people to come together and share their common values and goals," Linda Douglass, spokeswoman for the Presidential Inaugural Committee, told FOXNews.com.

"To that end, we certainly think that it's going to be a series of events that feel hopeful and optimistic," she said -- ones that underscore Obama's official inaugural theme, "Restoring America's Promise."

Gil Troy, a visiting scholar at the Bipartisan Policy Center, said Obama will be treading a thin line between opulence and common sense.

"Obama has to square a circle," he said. "He has to balance between the joy of his transition and the sobering nature of these times."

"It can't be an inauguration on the cheap, because Americans love the pomp and circumstance. But it can't be the inauguration like the one Reagan had that was so excessive that even Barry Goldwater was appalled," he said, referring to the former Arizona senator who was America's conservative icon at the time.

Reagan's inaugural ball cost $16.3 million in 1981, more than three times that of Jimmy Carter's $3.5 million inaugural celebration in 1977 -- even after counting the 48.7 percent inflation rate during Carter's one term in office.

Troy added that there will be much pressure on Michelle Obama, in particular, to balance her image as first lady.

"With the Kennedyesque excitement that the Obamas bring, there will be a lot of focus on Michelle Obama's dress," Troy said. "She has to show that she's elegant, but not excessive."

Douglass declined to give details on the inaugural ball plans, saying, "the nature of the balls have not been released as of yet."

But despite the recession, money appears to be plentiful for Obama's inaugural festivities.

Several Hollwood actors have donated $50,000 each -- the maximum allowed -- to the inaugural committee to fund the galas, according to the committee's online database of contributors.

Among the high-end rollers are Sharon Stone, Samuel Jackson, Halle Berry, and Jamie Foxx.

Douglass said the donation cap of $50,000 is "much, much lower than the cap four years ago," which was $250,000, adding that the committee does not accept funds from lobbyists, political action committees and corporations.

Douglass said  the inaugural festivities will be "the most open, accessible, and inclusive inauguration in recent history."

On Monday, the President-elect's transition team announced that Obama -- along with Vice President-elect Joe Biden -- will travel to Washington on an Amtrak train the weekend before the Tuesday, Jan. 20, inauguration. The Obama and Biden families will hold events at three cities along the way -- Philadelphia, Wilmington, and Baltimore -- before arriving in the nation's capital.

"This is one of the steps that we're taking to try to make sure that we're able to involve Americans who are not coming here to Washington, D.C.," said Douglass.

She said Obama's parade route will be more accessible to spectators, and the committee has been working with local authorities to open up the National Mall for people who do not have tickets. A total of 240,000 inaugural ball tickets will be distributed free of charge through congressional offices.