Congress: livin’ the high life

Trips, trips, everywhere, trips:

Over 5 1/2 years, Republican and Democratic lawmakers accepted nearly $50 million in trips, often to resorts and exclusive locales, from corporations and groups seeking legislative favors, according to the most comprehensive study to date on the subject of congressional travel.

From January 2000 through June 2005, House and Senate members and their aides were away from Washington for more than 81,000 days — a combined 222 years — on at least 23,000 trips, according to the report, issued yesterday by the nonpartisan Center for Public Integrity. About 2,300 of the trips cost $5,000 or more, at least 500 cost $10,000 or more, and 16 cost $25,000 or more.

“While some of these trips might qualify as legitimate fact-finding missions,” the study said, “the purpose of others is less clear.” In addition, the lawmakers’ financial reports that disclose the details of the trips are routinely riddled with mistakes and omissions.

Lawmakers and their staffers were treated to $25,000 corporate-jet rides and $500-a-night hotel rooms, the study showed. Lawmakers accepted thousands of costly jaunts — one worth more than $30,000 — to some of the world’s choicest destinations: at least 200 trips to Paris, 150 to Hawaii and 140 to Italy.

“Congressional travelers gave speeches in Scotland, attended meetings in Australia and toured nuclear facilities in Spain,” the study reported. “They pondered welfare reform in Scottsdale, Ariz., and the future of Social Security at a Colorado ski resort.”

Many congressional offices have voluntarily curtailed their privately funded travel since disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff pleaded guilty in January to conspiring to bribe public officials, in part with lavish overseas trips. But lawmakers and their aides still may accept travel for official purposes from private interests without limit.

From today’s Baltimore Examiner, with the apt headline “Big government spawns congressional junkets”:

But let’s not miss two fundamentally important points about these trips. First, the investigators found numerous examples of a tactic familiar to congressional veterans: Take a three-day trip to give one speech in a desired location. Find a friendly lobbyist or advocacy group to pay for your trip, then deliver the speech. Spend the balance of the three days seeing the sights. This is a con job, to be sure, but it is a bipartisan part and parcel of the corrupt culture that gives rise to the Incumbistan Complex detailed here yesterday.

Second, the list of corporations, nonprofits and trade associations putting out the $50 million to pay for the 23,000 trips reads like a who’s who of recipients of multiple billions in federal contracts, grants, earmarks and other disbursements. The federal budget consumes a fifth or more of the nation’s annual economic activity, with the bulk of that spending directly influenced by members of Congress and indirectly by their top aides. So why is anybody surprised that the beneficiaries of federal largesse spend millions of dollars skating right up to and sometimes past the letter of the law in order to influence the decision-makers who hold the purse strings?

The solution, they say, is not more rules and regulations in order to try to curb the trips (as House Speaker Denny Hastert has proposed) but instead:

The solution is to reduce the size and scope of government. Only then will there be significantly fewer special interests buying plane and hotel tickets for members of Congress and their staffs.


Unfortunately, the last five years have seen Republicans in DC squander the political opportunity of a lifetime: with their majorities in the House and Senate, along with a Republican President, cutting gov’t spending and reducing the size and scope of gov’t should have been a no-brainer.

Hat tip: Captain Ed

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