Question: How many free chili half-smokes can Obama eat?

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Iconic D.C. restaurant Ben's Chili Bowl is adding the Obama family to its very short list of customers that eat for free, The New York Times reported earlier this week. (Previously, the list was limited to Bill Cosby.) If PaperTrail were so lucky to be added to this exclusive list, we would take advantage of this offer as often as possible, so we certainly don’t want to be spoilsports. The president, though, is subject to federal regulations limiting the gifts he can receive. So just how many of Ben's famous chili half-smoke sausages can Obama eat without stepping over the ethical line?

Answer: If the new prez leaves his family at home, he can gobble down 10 free chili half-smokes a year (but only if he doesn’t want chili-cheese fries with those). You see, presidents, like other federal officials, generally are barred from accepting gifts “given because of the employee’s official position” unless they’re “unsolicited” and cost $20 or less “per source per occasion.” And there’s an annual limit of $50 per year. Now, those tasty chili half-smokes at Ben’s each cost $4.95. So that’s ten half-smokes for a total of $49.50, pre-tax, putting Obama just under the line.

But what if Michelle, Malia, and Sasha . . . oh, and body man Reggie Love come along? Realistically, before racking up a bill that goes over the line, the Obamas might want to follow this piece of advice from the federal gift rules: “It is never inappropriate and frequently prudent for an employee to decline a gift.” Once he gets a chance to try Ben’s, though, Obama might just want to keep this gift for himself, anyway.

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