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Financial woes mean tightened inaugural spending

As visitors to Washington D.C. take part in the nation's biggest-ever celebration, Scrooges coast to coast are wondering, with the economy in shambles, if all the money being spent on this partying is a tad inappropriate.

There is, indeed, some visible belt-tightening. "We are endeavoring to be as frugal as possible," said Linda Douglas, spokeswoman for the Presidential Inaugural Committee, the body charged with organizing all the official inaugural events, including 10 balls.

In the past, she said, each of the balls would have had its own theme. This year, however, to save on both design and execution, all 10 balls share the same theme, "Renewing America's Promise." There will be no flowers, the sets will be simple, "and we're driving a hard bargain with our caterers." More important than total outlay, Douglas said, is impact. "We are trying to spend as much of the money we raise as possible to provide free events for the public."

Among unofficial events, scrimping is harder to find. The New York State Society, a nonpartisan, Capitol-based social organization, is throwing a parade-viewing brunch at the Willard Hotel. "We have 1,500 people coming," Neiman said, "and the budget had no cutbacks."

The biggest of the state society events, the Texas Black Tie and Boots Inaugural Ball, is on track as well, with about 12,000 people planning to attend. "It's slightly scaled back this year," said spokesman Jenifer Sarver. "Sponsor dollars are tighter this time around, but our ball will still be the most over the top."

Texas, it must be said, is not exactly a wellspring of enthusiasm for the president-elect. But all around the Capitol there is a palpable sense of excitement, even among groups not considered to be Obama's base.

The National Association of Manufacturers, for example, is holding a gala celebration on Jan. 18. Not only is the event not scaled back from previous ones, said spokeswoman Maureen Davenport, it's the first time NAM has ever held an inaugural gala. Tickets to the NAM Gala are $200, which makes it one of the more reasonably priced events.

But a good portion of even the priciest tickets gets funneled back into the local economy. Victoria Isley, senior vice president of marketing for Destination DC, the city's convention and tourism bureau, pointed out that the inaugural celebration is, in effect, an economic stimulus package for the District of Columbia. "Traditionally, winter is a slow time for tourism here," she said, "but this money is going to pay hotel workers, caterers, waiters, bellmen, florists."

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