August 12, 2009

Air Congress

So what if Congress canceled their half a billion dollars worth of Gulf Steams...

Frequent flying by Congress is a growth industry. As the Journal's Brody Mullins reported this month, House members last year spent some 3,000 days overseas on taxpayer-funded trips, up from about 550 in 1995. This month, 11 separate congressional delegations will visit Germany.

No one begrudges members visiting U.S. troops or conferring with key leaders in other countries. But with so many trips, boondoggles are inevitable.

The total cost for congressional overseas travel is never made public because the price tag for State Department advance teams and military planes used by lawmakers are folded into much larger budgets. Members of Congress must only report the total per diem reimbursements they receive in cash for hotels, meals and local transport.

They don't have to itemize expenses—a convenient arrangement since most costs are covered by the government or local hosts. Some trips subtract some hotel and meal costs from the per diems, others do not. "The policy is completely inconsistent," one House member told me. Total per diem allowances (per person, including staff) can top $3,000 for a single trip. Unused funds are supposed to be given back to the government, but congressional records show that rarely happens.

Whether they control their own planes or not, "Air Congress" is living a jet set lifestyle on our dime.

No comments: