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Senator Investigating Cost of Air Force Two Playing Cards

March 8, 1987 GMT

WASHINGTON (AP) _ There’s a joker in the decks of playing cards Vice President George Bush gives out as souvenirs to guests traveling with him on Air Force Two.

Sen. William Proxmire, D-Wis., has discovered that the Air Force paid $59,000 over the last six years for the playing cards and calls the expense ″outrageous,″ worthy of his monthly ″Golden Fleece″ award for the most ″wasteful, ridiculous or ironic use of taxpayers’ money.″

Proxmire says he wants a full accounting from the Defense Department, not only for the vice presidential playing cards but for all souvenirs given away to passengers on Air Force Two and President Reagan’s Air Force One as well.

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Proxmire said the Air Force has been buying decks of cards for vice presidents and their guests for the last 20 years.

At the rate of $10,000 a year, ″we may be looking at a wasteful project totaling more than $200,000 since the 1960s,″ Proxmire said.

He said that includes only the possible cost of playing cards for Air Force Two, not for those distributed on Air Force One.

The Air Force declined to discuss the matter in detail, but issued a prepared statement asserting it was only following orders.

″For more than 20 years, the Air Force has furnished playing cards for the vice president’s aircraft at the request of the White House,″ the statement said.

″These souvenirs were provided to visitors aboard the aircraft to include members of Congress, heads of state, distinguished civic leaders and representatives of the news media.″

The vice president’s office did not immediately return a telephone call seeking comment.

Proxmire staff members said the senator will demand details of the administration’s airborne gift-giving either in a letter to the Air Force or by questioning Defense Department witnesses at meetings of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

″What happens after that will depend on the response he gets,″ a staff member said.

But there is apparently more to the cards than their cost.

Relations between the Reagan administration and Congress have been far from smooth over Reagan’s first six years in office.

Many presidential aides have at times openly expressed irritation and annoyance over congressional actions.

And the Air Force specifications for the Air Force Two playing cards dictate that the jokers in each pack are to ″include image of Capitol building on face.″

The specifications:

″Cards, playing, single deck, bronzed with current vice presidential seal, black on gold, on back of all cards ... Jokers to include image of Capitol on face, deck in light blue velour case ... vice presidential seal in gold...″

Proxmire said he asked for a pack of the vice presidential cards but was refused.

″The Air Force told us they can only be distributed aboard Air Force Two,″ a Proxmire aide said.