06-21-2011 by Linda S. Carbonell
Remember how John Boehner promised that THIS Congess was going to be fiscally responsible, transparent and ethical? That promise has gone the way of the one about concentrating on jobs, jobs, jobs.
The Daily Beast has reviewed the travel records for Congress, and the results are even worse than they were during the days when conservatives were falsely accusing Speaker Nancy Pelosi of using a government plane to fly to California every weekend.
Legally, lawmakers can travel at taxpayers’ expense or at the expense of others to attend meetings held by academic institutions and think tanks. That’s how 20 lawmakers from both parties spent a nice weekend in a 5-star hotel in Vienna for a conference on nuclear proliferation. The trip cost $11,250 per lawmaker and was paid for by the Aspen Institute, an international, non-partisan think tank founded in 1950.
So far this year, lawmakers have taken more than 200 trips paid for by outside groups at a total price tag of more than $1 million. That is almost double that spent in the same period in 2010.
Nine lawmakers and eight family members visited Tel Aviv and Jerusalem in April to meet with Prime Minister Netanyahu and visit the Gaza Strip border area. The trip, paid for by the American Israel Education Foundation, also included visits to religious tourist sites and museums. The total cost of the trip for the 17 Americans was $160,000.
The Turquoise Council of Americans and Eurasians paid for Republican Representatives Ted Poe of Texas and Scott Garrett of New Jersey to visit Turkey with their wives. Poe defends the trip, which hit pretty much all the biggest tourist attractions in Turkey, by pointing out that he is a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and Turkey is in “a region that is in turmoil.” That one cost $21,000.
In February, it was the Aspen Institute again, spending $64,000 to send 13 lawmakers to Puerto Rico for talks about energy policy. In March, the American Enterprise Institute sent five Senators to Sea Island, Georgia, four a conference about “various federal issues.” Great golf course and fabulous accommodations, by the way. Bush held a G-8 there and it was a favorite vacation site of Eisenhower.
The Aspen Institute is the leader in funding Congressional travel at more than $6 million since 2001, with the American Israel Education Foundation coming in second at more than $3 million.
Then, there’s the trips paid for by the taxpayers. Six members of Congress went on the “Offshore Energy Tour” last month to the Gulf of Mexico to visit an offshore rig, a meet with oil industry representatives after Congress had voted to accelerate offshore drilling. Most of the trip’s costs were paid by the taxpayers, though Chevron paid for the helicopter to fly the six (five Repubs and 1 Dem) to the rig.
In addition to too many trips by too many people to Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as Egypt after the revolution and a couple to Benghazi, Libya, recently, there are numerous trips to such essential foreign sites as Brussels, London and Istanbul. In the first quarter of 2011, the Senate Foreign Relations Committe spent $326,000 on lawmaker and staff trips and the Senate Armed Services Committe spent $210,000.
House members are on track to spend 35% more than the House did last year on trips. The Senate isn’t quite up to that speed, with it looking like they will may only spend only half a million more than 2010 in 2011. But the year is only half over, and they have six months to catch up.
Remember how John Boehner promised, promised that the House would reduce costs in these financially troubling times. Promises, promises…….