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The cost of pomp for Reagan's funeral

By
SHIHOKO GOTO, UPI Senior Business Correspondent
The casket of former President Ronald Reagan proceeds down Constitution Avenue during a State Funeral Procession on June 8, 2004. The 40th President of United States died at the age of 93. Photo by Pat Benic/UPI
The casket of former President Ronald Reagan proceeds down Constitution Avenue during a State Funeral Procession on June 8, 2004. The 40th President of United States died at the age of 93. Photo by Pat Benic/UPI | License Photo

WASHINGTON, June 16 (UPI) -- The week of official mourning for the passing of Ronald Reagan is over, although according to protocol, the national flag must continue to be raised at half-mast until 30 days after his funeral last Friday. But it's not just flags that will continue to remember the death of the 40th president of the United States, but taxpayers and businesses too as they continue to pay for the week of remembrance.

Since Reagan passed away on June 5, the body of the 93-year-old was transported first from Simi Valley in California where mourners were able to observe the body at his presidential library for a day. The casket was then flown to Washington D.C. so that it could lie in state on Capitol Hill for nearly two days, and then a motorcade took the body to the National Cathedral for a state funeral.

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Apart from the obvious costs such as funeral expenses, such as the 700-pound mahogany casket estimated at $14,000, Reagan's remembrance ceremony consisted of effectively shutting the Nation's Capital for over a day, and financial markets were closed all day in respect of the deceased former leader. Such activities came at a price to taxpayers and small businesses.

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Former President George Bush walks past the casket of former President Ronald Reagan during State Funeral at the National Cathedral in Washington on June 11, 2004. Photo by Pat Benic/UPI

Perhaps due to the somewhat morbid practice of trying to assess the cost of a state funeral, both the Office of Personnel Management and the Office of Management and Budget declined to give a ballpark figure on the price tag of the activities. But the OPM said that about 1.8 million are employed by the government at a daily payroll cost of about $423 million. Government employees were given a holiday on the day of the funeral in an effort to reduce traffic in the city, but because there were those who were deployed precisely because of the activities, such as policemen and security officers, it is likely that the amount cost to the government in terms of paycheck exceeded that of a regular working day.

Then there is the cost of transporting Reagan's body back and forth from California to Washington. President Bush sent one of the planes that serves as Air Force One, the presidential plane, to the West Coast to carry Reagan. The Boeing 747s were actually ordered when Reagan was president, even though they did not enter service until Bush's father, the senior President Bush, took office. Given the cost of gas at the pumps, simply getting the plane to go to California, pick up the body, then take it back to California for a total of two round trips, was not cheap. A 747 takes up to 47,000 gallons, over half of which is needed for the six-hour flight, and at around $1.98 per gallon, that's not small change that needs to be paid by the taxpayer.

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Meanwhile, the New York Stock Exchange as well as all other major U.S. financial markets were closed for business on Friday, costing investors billions in lost potential transactions. The NYSE too declined to give a specific estimate as to how much money was lost as a result of Friday's closure, but the exchange estimates that its average daily volume is around 1.54 billion shares valued at $47.9 billion. Granted, trading is usually thinner during the summer season, and fewer transactions are made on Fridays as a rule. Nevertheless, it is clear that the unexpected closing of markets was a lost opportunity for many financial investors.

Business opportunities were lost in downtown Washington as well, as many stores and restaurants that depend on the office worker clientele, with some lunch providers that remained open effectively seeing almost no customers that day.

Still, as one credit card company states, some things in life are simply priceless. And whatever political persuasion one might be, the death of a president is an opportunity to mourn not only of his life, but a time to reflect back on the time he presided. In the case of Reagan, both his staunchest supporters and critics were united in thinking back to the 1980s and the end of the Cold War. For those who were too young or not yet born, the funeral provided a chance for them to learn about a time when the Soviet Union was seen as the biggest threat to the United States, and the nuclear threat seemed very real.

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For no president has gone without the nation mourning at length for his loss. Indeed, Richard Nixon closed the government three times to mark the deaths of predecessors Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, and Lyndon Johnson. The government also shut down in 1963 after the assassination of John F. Kennedy, while during World War II, Truman closed the government to honor the death of Franklin Roosevelt. Even disgraced president Richard Nixon was remembered fondly too, as Bill Clinton closed the government in his honor in 1994.

It's also not too high a price to pay, as the presidency is the closest thing the United States has to royalty and the pageantry that goes with it. The state funeral of the Queen Mother, mother of reigning Queen Elizabeth II cost Britons $201,000 (111,000 pounds) just for the "carriage processions," and she never actually sat in the seat of power. A full royal funeral for a king or queen would cost millions, and given that they are rulers for life, taxpayers also have to pay for their weddings as well as their burials, amongst other expenses.

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So perhaps Reagan's funeral was a small price to pay to bring the nation together after all.

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