Dying Veteran Bill Schoonover’s Letter to Senators-Authorship Confirmed!
An open letter to senators written by a dying veteran named Bill Schoononver about government waste and abuse of power has gone viral.
A veteran named Bill Schoonover did in fact wrote this open letter.
The letter to U.S. Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and U.S. Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA) appeared on conservative blog sites in September 2013, and it has been widely circulated in chain emails and discussion forums ever since.
Let’s start with what we know about its author, Bill Schoonover. Schoonover identified himself as a retired lieutenant colonel in a guest book entry from 2011 for the 97th Engineer Battalion, a construction detail based in France in the mid to late 1950s.
Today, Bill Schoonover is listed as a resident of Oak Harbor, Washington. That makes claims that the 2013 open letter was written by a “dying” questionable. No information about his health was readily available, but Schoonover regularly submits letters to the editor of a local newspaper, and his last entry was published in November 2015.
So, as of the end of 2015 — more than two full years after the open letter first appeared — Schoonover was alive and well enough to write letters to the editor.
Now we’ll turn our attention to a few of the claims Bill Schoonover made in his open letter. Schoonover argues that President Obama has been living large and “spent an estimated 1.4 $billion on himself and his family.”
It’s true that the White House budget was $1.4 billion in 2012, but the idea that that can be blamed on the Obama family’s extravagant spending is misleading. According to a paper by the Brooking Institution’s Bradley Patterson, questions about how much it costs to operate the White House are complicated:
What are the annual dollar costs, for a typical year, of operating the modern presidency—of running the White House, the whole White House? One of the reasons that question has never been answered (and perhaps never even asked) is because the pathway to the answer is so complicated. One may start with the tab “White House Office” in the annual congressional budget submission of the Executive Office of the President, but that is only an initial fraction. In addition, twenty-two other budget accounts, thirteen of them in other departments, or parts of departments, pay the expenses, and the salaries, of men and women who are in fact members of the White House staff family. Not only are those costs scattered through those twenty-two other budgets, but in at least nine of them the dollars are not in any fashion identified as White House. Realistic estimates have to be made.
Patterson estimated that the White House budget (excluding classified expenses for things like Air Force One) was about $1.5 billion in fiscal year 2008. That’s important because the government’s fiscal year 2008 ran from October 2007 to September 2008, so it encompassed the presidencies of both George W. Bush and Obama. And if those rough estimates are any indication, there wasn’t a big jump in White House spending under Obama, and there was actually a slight decline.
It’s fair to argue that the cost of maintaining the White House has become too expensive for all presidents — but it’s not fair to pin that on the Obama family. In reality, operational costs of the White House are roughly the same for Democrats and Republicans.
Schoonover also takes aim at the amount of time Obama has spent on vacation, noting that Obama had spent 92 days on vacation over the first five years of his presidency.
Some commentators have noted that presidents are never truly on vacation because there are always briefings, meetings and phone calls to answer. But another important point is that Obama’s vacation time isn’t unusual as far as presidents go.
An ABC News review found that compared to past presidents, Obama had actually spent less time on vacation by the end of 2014:
However, compared to past presidents, Obama has taken relatively few vacation days. At this point in his second term, former President George W. Bush had taken a whopping 405 vacation days. Before him, Bill Clinton took a total of 174 days for himself. Another big vacationer was Ronald Reagan, who took a total of 390 days during his time in office. In comparison, Obama has only taken 161 vacation days to date.
So, again, it’s fair to argue that presidents in general take too many vacations. But since Obama has actually taken less time off than other modern presidents, it’s not fair (or accurate) to single him out for extravagance.