President Barack Obama is taking the oath of office in less than two months, but the party planning is just beginning.
Compared to the run up to inauguration four years ago, Washington's heard few details about the official parties and events that define the three-day event -- or the benefactors who are footing the bill.
The Presidential Inaugural Committee launched Thursday, naming big-name Obama supporters like actress Eva Longoria as its co-chairs.
The committee also unveiled a bare-bones schedule, including a day of service, the swearing-in, a parade and official balls -- though the exact number was unclear.
Several K Streeters and Capitol Hill aides said the slower planning pace makes sense, since they expect fewer official galas and a more somber tone. The economic recovery is still fragile and the fiscal cliff negotiations are at a near standstill, introducing a big unknown into planning the festivities.
Of course, incumbents rarely are greeted with the same pomp and circumstance during their second inaugurations. But the shift is even more dramatic for Obama, who drew a record 1.9 million people to Washington to attend the swearing in of the nation's first black president.
"It feels like it is going to be a normal football game and not the Super Bowl, so we don't have people absolutely inundating us with requests for tickets to the ceremony and the parade," said Rich Gold, head of Holland & Knight's public policy group.
One clear recognition that the party will be smaller is the Washington, D.C.'s public transit system, which is predicting about half the ridership of Obama's 2009 inauguration.
Vermont State Society president Narric Rome said he expects this inaugural won't pack the same excitement or draw because it's the second one and because of the still-fragile economy - which by then could have fallen off the fiscal cliff.
"Four years ago, we planned for a 400 person-event and 600 people showed up," said Rome, whose group is holding a reception at 101 Constitution Ave. N.W., the Sunday beforehand. "I don't think that will be the case this time."
Organizers have also released the official theme "Faith in America's Future," an attempt to draw a line toward the country's steadfastness and unity. There are also expected to be several nods to Martin Luther King Jr., as the inaugural address will fall on the holiday commemorating the civil rights leader.
The swearing-in ceremony on the Capitol steps is farther along in its planning. Run by a separate joint congressional committee, the group's chair Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said the budget of $1.23 million is just $3,000 less than it was in 2009. But he said that won't impact the program.
"The events of our committee, they're steeped in tradition, so it's going to look pretty much the same," he said.
Unlike the lead up to Obama's first inauguration, where the Presidential Inauguration Committee, regularly released fundraising numbers and plans for the event, the group has stayed relatively mum.
Fundraising for the inauguration after the most costly presidential election ever could also be challenging.
One Republican fundraiser said it is difficult to hit up the same donor pool after milking them dry for the campaign and some donors get bent out of shape because they think they should be given a free pass for the inaugural, a perk for all they've done.
"They say, 'Well, c'mon, shouldn't this be part of my benefit?'" said the fundraiser, who has raised money for GOP inaugurals.
Kathy Webb, deputy director of President Bill Clinton's inaugural committee in 1997, said politics are a factor in all inaugurals, particularly when it comes to optics.
"You can't throw a $50 million party when so many people are hurting and when we're at war, our troops are in harm's way," Webb said. "You might cut back a little on some of the glitter, the so-called glitter-type events, you make sure most of the activities are a little bit lower key and accessible."
Obama put tight restrictions on donations for his first inauguration, barring lobbyists, corporations, political action committees and non-U.S. citizens. He also capped the contribution amounts at $50,000. In past years, donations had sometimes topped $250,000. Some close to the administration have reportedly urged Obama to loosen those restrictions.
While there are certainly challenges with a second inaugural, it can also have benefits, according to former White House staff.
Amy Zantzinger, social secretary in President George W. Bush's second term, said that incumbents have a "greater level of comfort with the second inaugural that you wouldn't have for the first term."
"They've been there, they've done it all. I'm sure it's much more relaxing for them," she added.
While the official festivities will be limited, private interests are spending millions of dollars on festivities surrounding the official events.
Ford Motor Company is pairing with the Smithsonian's Office of Corporate Relations to host a gala reception at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. Environmental advocates are hosting two separate balls, the Green Ball and the Environmental and Clean Energy Ball. And law firms like Holland & Knight will open their doors for inaugural parties for clients.
Eric Michael, co-founder of Occasions Caterers, said that the inauguration is the busiest time for private events in the Washington-metro area.
"We already have thousands of people on the books for those days," Michael said. "There are events that happen every single inauguration without fail... it doesn't matter who wins they are going to have fun parties, great music, and so absolutely there is still a ton of entertaining."
LeeAnn Petersen, a veteran on the event planning circuit, is planning a gospel brunch Sunday in a converted church and a concert Sunday night with a funk jam theme.
Diversity lobbying groups like the Washington Government Relations Group, Hispanic Lobbyists Association, Women in Government Relations and the H Street Group, which represents Asian Americans, are in the planning stages of putting together a reception for incoming freshman minority and women lawmakers during inauguration week.
The Creative Coalition is also getting in on the action. The group is planning a gala the evening of Obama's swearing in at the Harman Center for the Arts, with stars like Tim Daly, Kirsten Dunst, Ashley Greene and Chelsea Handler, among others, expected to appear.
Creative Coalition Executive Director Robin Bronk said that its important to have a presence during the festivities.
"We're at this important crossroads especially with the arts," Bronk said. "It's a time to celebrate it, pay homage to it and underscore the importance of the arts in our national agenda."
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