What Congress does on its summer recess: Lavish, taxpayer-funded travel

posted at 12:30 pm on July 17, 2008 by Ed Morrissey

When Congress goes on recess, as it did over the Independence Day break, its members talk about the need to get back to their constituents to hear their concerns.  Unfortunately, as US News reports, talk is all some do about it.  Instead, they travel to exotic locations, with costs underwritten by lobbyists, or in some cases, by the very constituents that now can’t afford the same kind of travel due to rising fuel costs:

While many Americans watched their wallets, several dozen members of Congress used the Memorial Day recess to travel overseas to places including Rome, Venice, and Athens without digging into their own. At least 64 lawmakers traveled abroad that week, many with spouses in tow, a U.S. News review found. The largest contingent was 17 members of Congress ensconced for five nights in the $480-a-night Rome Cavalieri Hilton, courtesy of the Aspen Institute, a nonprofit group famous for transporting lawmakers to chic destinations, ranging from the Grand Cayman Islands to Istanbul, for in-depth looks at foreign policy and other issues.

The Aspen Institute brought the lawmakers to Rome for a seminar called “Political Islam: Challenges for U.S. Policy.” But it wasn’t just the members of Congress who benefited, at no cost to themselves, since all but one brought along a spouse or child. Trips for two soared as high as $20,120, and the bottom line for members and their companions rose to nearly $263,000, according to disclosure reports. …

Although “recess” isn’t the official term anymore, the globe-trotting during Memorial Day weekend debunks the idea that members are at home during the break. The Senate called the week a “state work period,” and the House used the term “district work period.” Several lawmakers ventured into war zones, such as Iraq and Afghanistan, or to strategic locations, such as Pakistan, which Congress watchers don’t question. But they raise flags when members travel to picture-perfect places such as Italy, Greece, and the arctic reaches of Norway, as they did over Memorial Day.

Ten lawmakers went on a weeklong, taxpayer-paid trip from May 23 to 30 for meetings of the Transatlantic Legislators’ Dialogue in Ljubljana, Slovenia, with subsequent stops—and la dolce vita—in Venice and Naples. The dialogue unites lawmakers with peers from the European Parliament. Seven in the U.S. delegation had a spouse along, says Lynne Weil, spokeswoman for the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Many of these politicians and their wives travel on military jets rather than commercial flights. The military does not release the costs associated with junket travel, but flights to Italy, Norway, and Greece do not come cheaply. American taxpayers wind up footing the bill not just for their elected representatives, but also for their families to enjoy exotic, beautiful locations that their constituents only enjoy through the National Geographic channel on cable TV.

In fact, as US News reports, rising fuel prices and economic uncertainty has produced a new trend: the “staycation”. The percentage of Americans planning vacations fell to 36% this year, the lowest since the Conference Board began polling on the question in 1978. They can’t afford even modest vacations, and yet their representatives think little of using their tax money for their own globetrotting.

Travel to war zones and obvious areas of national interest makes sense. However, studying “Political Islam” does not require a trip outside the US, and especially not to the most Catholic of all nations, Italy. Nor does the study of US-China relations need to be conducted in a resort in Hawaii during the first days of spring. Jetting to Oslo to study global warming is almost an irony in itself.

Obviously, the most ethical Congress evah needs a lot more reform. Maybe these Representatives and Senators should really spend more time with their constituents — or maybe their constituents should just replace them.


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Most ethical AND entitled congress ever

Hunt035 on July 17, 2008 at 12:34 PM

Must be nice not having to limit your family vacations due to minor inconveniences such as …. $4 per gallon gas.

wytammic on July 17, 2008 at 12:35 PM

Personally, I don’t see a problem with it.

Vincenzo on July 17, 2008 at 12:35 PM

Hypocrites the lot of them. Why don’t they get the foreign representatives over here (if they really MUST meet) and get said foreigners to spend their money in the USA!!!

HawaiiLwyr on July 17, 2008 at 12:41 PM

Obviously, the most ethical Congress evah needs a lot more reform. Maybe these Representatives and Senators should really spend more time with their constituents — or maybe their constituents should just replace them.

And maybe they should start paying for their own gas and auto leases instead of sticking taxpayers with that bill, while telling us to wait for the wind.

Buy Danish on July 17, 2008 at 12:42 PM

…several dozen members of Congress…

Give us their names. We can’t do anything about it if we don’t know who we’re talking about.

RMCS_USN on July 17, 2008 at 12:43 PM

I think what everyone here would very much like to see are names. I would very much like to know who went where with who for how long and how much it cost someone like me to get them there in the first place. I would like to know where they stayed, what they ate and drank and how much of what they actually did could be considered business, and again, how much all this cost someone like me.

pilamaye on July 17, 2008 at 12:44 PM

RMCS_USN on July 17, 2008 at 12:43 PM

Sorry, the original article cited the “ethical” members.

RMCS_USN on July 17, 2008 at 12:48 PM

And OUTRAGED McCain promising Congressional finance reform in……5…..4….3…2..1.

Mcguyver on July 17, 2008 at 12:49 PM

Give us their names. We can’t do anything about it if we don’t know who we’re talking about.

The article gives names if you feel like giving the “humble public servants” your opinion on their travels.

Rogue Traveler on July 17, 2008 at 12:51 PM

Personally, I don’t see a problem with it.

Vincenzo on July 17, 2008 at 12:35 PM

I do. It’s just another of those perks they love so much which make them want to continue as a career Congressman. And, if they aren’t wary of the perception it creates, why do they try to disguise it as work related?

a capella on July 17, 2008 at 12:52 PM

…several dozen members of Congress…

Give us their names. We can’t do anything about it if we don’t know who we’re talking about.

RMCS_USN on July 17, 2008 at 12:43 PM

Dick Morris listed all of the members of Congress who have been enjoying fantastically lavish vacations in his book Outrage, and he also listed the amount spent, the days on vacation, and the significance of the Aspen Institute in this whole equation.

MB007 on July 17, 2008 at 12:58 PM

Must be nice not having to limit your family vacations due to minor inconveniences such as …. $4 per gallon gas.

wytammic on July 17, 2008 at 12:35 PM

or pretty much anything else, either.
but its ok, because everything is peachy and the messiah has arrived among us,

billypaintbrush on July 17, 2008 at 12:59 PM

— or maybe their constituents should just replace them.

………… after the tar and feathering, of course.

Seven Percent Solution on July 17, 2008 at 1:02 PM

Lavish, taxpayer-funded travel

Instead, they travel to exotic locations, with costs underwritten by lobbyists

Chicken feed schrooming of the tax payers.

The Sacking of America

Communism was a public relations gift to the bankers. By diverting the dialogue to “controlled versus free markets” it obscured the bankers’ real intent—to insert debt into every aspect of free markets. The bankers’ overwhelming success however would destroy both the bankers and the free markets on which they preyed.

Parasitoidism is the relationship between a host and parasite where the host is ultimately killed by the parasite. This is what is happening to the US. Once the most powerful and productive economy in the world, the US, indebted by bankers and government spending beyond its ability to repay, is headed towards sovereign bankruptcy.

The recent request by US Treasury Secretary—and more importantly former Chairman and CEO of investment bank Goldman Sachs— Henry Paulson to bail out Fannie Mae and Freddy Mac with US taxpayer dollars is but another indication of this destructive and parasitic relationship between bankers, government and the economy.

That a private banker from a large Wall Street investment bank is also Secretary of the US Treasury is no coincidence. It is also no coincidence that once again, public monies from the US Treasury are being used to rescue private bankers and to indemnify their losses.

THE FOX IS IN THE HENHOUSE GOLDMAN’S SACKING OF AMERICA

Receiving taxpayer dollars from the US Treasury for their private benefit is not new to Goldman Sachs. In 1990s, when the Mexican government defaulted on its bonds, investors at Goldman Sachs’ stood to lose billions of dollars. They didn’t.

Buried deep in the subsequent $40 billion US bailout of Mexico was a $4 billion payment to Goldman Sachs, gratis of the US Treasury indemnifying Goldman Sachs against any losses on their investment in Mexican bonds.

The fact that current US Treasury Secretary and former Goldman Sachs CEO Henry Paulson also recently used US funds to underwrite JP Morgan Chase’s private buyout of investment bank Bear Stearns and is now proposing to do the same with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac is to be expected. For investment bankers, using public money to privately profit is business as usual.

They’re ruining what has been one of the greatest economies in the world, Bernanke and Paulson are bailing out their friends on Wall Street but there are 300 million Americans that are going to have to pay for this.
- Darryl Robert Schoon

MB4 on July 17, 2008 at 1:04 PM

Who’s behind the “Aspen Institute” — and how many of our tax dollars does this “Institute” rake in from our oh-so-generous legislature each year? A non-profit group is not going to be laying out that kind of money for politicians’ trips to exotic locales unless there is something in it for the group, or its backers.

AZCoyote on July 17, 2008 at 1:08 PM

In fact, as US News reports, rising fuel prices and economic uncertainty has produced a new trend: the “staycation”. The percentage of Americans planning vacations fell to 36% this year, the lowest since the Conference Board began polling on the question in 1978. They can’t afford even modest vacations, and yet their representatives think little of using their tax money for their own globetrotting.

While the Securities and Exchange Commission was swatting flies, Chairman Bernanke turned up on Capitol Hill today to tell Congress that he was one confused man. That was the gist of a presentation in which he was able to do little more than point out the dangers of a collapsing economy and growing inflation.

As he was speaking, General Motors was telling its employees and its stockholders that more layoffs, huge salary cuts and no more dividends were in their immediate future. At the same time the dollar drank the shrinking potion from Alice in Wonderland and set a new record for weakness against the euro.

The American economy has not been in such serious trouble in seventy-five years. You cannot expect government officials to say that, however. Commerce, like religion, depends on faith. That Paulson would present a plan that contradicts everything he has stood for as a businessman and a Republican demonstrates what he actually thinks.

Things are going to get worse, and people know it. Panic, fear and worry about jobs, savings, debts and bills are on the minds of millions. Unemployment will grow, incomes will continue to shrink and prices grow higher as more companies head for bankruptcy court.

The Paulson plan, like the Bernanke plans that preceded it, is not tough enough, not close enough to the bone to make a telling difference. His is a temporizing attempt to prop up the unproppable. There is too much rot in these financial institutions. They will have to be allowed to fail and be reorganized in the process of which a lot of people will, in Wall Street parlance, take a major haircut.
- Nicholas von Hoffman

MB4 on July 17, 2008 at 1:11 PM

“Ten lawmakers went on a weeklong, taxpayer-paid trip from May 23 to 30 for meetings of the Transatlantic Legislators’ Dialogue in Ljubljana, Slovenia, with subsequent stops—and la dolce vita—in Venice and Naples. The dialogue unites lawmakers with peers from the European Parliament. Seven in the U.S. delegation had a spouse along, says Lynne Weil, spokeswoman for the House Foreign Affairs Committee.”

No doubt they were intrigued with the very efficient policy of handing out per diems before the 7am Friday flight home.

Dusty on July 17, 2008 at 1:14 PM

One day the “partying” will stop. Either through economic collapse or revolution. Or both, the former having precipitated the latter.

One day, it is my hope that the People will weary of being pack mules – for nothing but a bunch of political pigs in perpetuity.

OhEssYouCowboys on July 17, 2008 at 1:17 PM

AZCoyote on July 17, 2008 at 1:08 PM

The problem with the Aspen Institute is that what they’re doing is pretty airtight…they are clean when it comes to lobbyists and the like. However, they do tend to invite the same people over and over again on their trips, such as Rep. George Miller (D-CA), who in six years has spent an average of 26 days a year on Aspen Institute trips and has traveled on $125,000 worth of trips with them. Former Democratic senator Dick Clark now runs the Aspen Institute’s congressional outreach program, and is a close friend of Rep. Miller. The other top nine globe-trotters courtesy of the institute are Sen. Dick Lugar (R-IN), Congressman Howard Berman (D-CA), Rep. Donald Payne (D-NJ), Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-TX), Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-NY), Congressman Gene Greene (D-TX), Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), and Congressman Nita Lowey (D-NY).

All of this information is courtesy Dick Morris’s book, Outrage, pages 103-110.

MB007 on July 17, 2008 at 1:19 PM

Traveling politicians, leaving the carbon footprint of Paul Bunyan.

An inconvenient congress.

fogw on July 17, 2008 at 1:30 PM

I couldn’t go anywhere this summer, and spent my vacation at home. I suggest the congress follow my example.

Ellen on July 17, 2008 at 1:34 PM

freaking PIGS

custer on July 17, 2008 at 1:54 PM

They want us to conserve??? HOw bout they start conserving first!

This is such BS!

becki51758 on July 17, 2008 at 1:58 PM

LOL! Out of curiosity I went and read the Aspen Institute website.

The chairman, Walter Isaacson (formerly of CNN), wrote this — surely with tongue planted firmly in cheek:

At certain points in our lives, many of us feel the need to reflect on what it takes to lead a life that is good, useful, worthy, and meaningful. Perhaps we have noticed ourselves trimming our principles and making too many compromises in our careers, and we want to reconnect with our values. Or perhaps we yearn, in a world filled with clashing opinions, to understand the great ideas and ideals that have competed throughout the progress of civilization.

We help people become more enlightened in their work and enriched in their lives. Together we can learn one of the keys to being successful in business, leadership and life: balancing conflicting values in order to find common ground with our fellow citizens while remaining true to basic ideals.

Ha! Such irony….”Enriching” their lives! “Trimming their principles”.

Sheesh. Da Bums. If I feel the need to “reflect on what it takes to lead a good life”, I certainly wouldn’t ask someone else to fly me to Italy.

It’s the sense of entitlement that bothers me more than anything.

jeanneb on July 17, 2008 at 2:39 PM

They want us to conserve??? HOw bout they start conserving first!

becki51758 on July 17, 2008 at 1:58 PM

I know the authors, I know the tune
I know it line by line
In public they preach the water
In private they guzzle the wine
- Mark Twain Entelechy

MB4 on July 17, 2008 at 2:40 PM

Suppose you were an idiot. And suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself.
- Mark Twain

All Congresses and Parliaments have a kindly feeling for idiots, and a compassion for them, on account of personal experience and heredity.
- Mark Twain

It could probably be shown by facts and figures that there is no distinctly native American criminal class except Congress.
- Mark Twain

MB4 on July 17, 2008 at 2:48 PM

I am currently on a three week vacation, which sadly ends in two days :(

I had planned our yearly road trip nearly a year ago and we were going to drive cross-country from San Diego where we reside to the New England area. We were going to visit as many colonial America historical destinations as could and visit as many National Parks as time would allow during our foray cross-country. My son is very interested in American History, as am I, so I wanted to take him to as many historical sites as I could, including stops along the way. Plus, I had never been to the colonial America historical areas myself either. Virgin territory for us both. Maps were printed, destinations within time tables picked and sorted, reservations for lodging made, extra time alotted for just exploring. Pennies pinched. What a great trip this was going to be.

But then gasoline hit $4.80 a gallon within the year in San Diego, and the dream trip went *p00f* -out the window. I figured it would cost a lot less to fly back there then to drive, which wouldn’t have been bad, but then a rental car still needs gas too and there’s a lot of miles inbetween the colonial America Historical sites in New England. Not to mention the cost of a car rental. Being limited to one small geographic area for this type of foray wasn’t very attractive either.

So, instead of my son and I going on a road trip like we usually do every year, which is usually to places like the Grand Canyon, Carlsbad Caverns, exploring the Northwest (Washington & Oregon), or Alaska, or Western Canada, or wherever our hearts desired and budget allowed, we stayed home. More or less. We did drive up the 125 miles to the Los Angeles area and we did the overcrowded tourist atrractions that we’ve done so many times before. We hit Disneyland, California Adventure, and Knotts Berry Farm along with a couple nights in a hotel. Then we returned home and did Sea World (for the 1,000th time). It’s been a good vacation (a bad day fishing is better than a good day working any day) anyway. My calves still ache :)

My son and I would love to globe trot across the world to countries in Europe, and to Russia, China, and exotic Caribbean destinations, but it’s just too cost prohibitive for this middle class family… and we don’t have a wealthy benefactor like Uncle Sam or wealthy special interests to pay for our family vacations to exotic places under the guise of “official business”.

SilverStar830 on July 17, 2008 at 3:01 PM

Honestly, I wouldn’t begrudge Congressmen the occasional expensive foreign trip if they weren’t otherwise so bloody corrupt, shameless, ignorant, arrogant, entitled, venal and stupid. They carry on this way even though they already know of their single-digit approval rating. They seem determined to actually drive their approval number to zero.

Travis Bickle on July 17, 2008 at 3:08 PM

You know what I do every summer? Teach summer school for $35 an hour. Teachers don’t get paid vacation, so I work my holidays. Still can’t afford to buy a house in CA, though, let alone travel.

I’m in the wrong darned business.

Bob's Kid on July 17, 2008 at 4:44 PM

When a member of the House of Barons (formerly the House of Representatives) visits their Baronies Congressional District, the local MSM breaks out all stops. When the same people, who work for the serfs constituents go off on junkets, nary a word is heard.

Why not reduce the size of a Congressional District to 10,000 people each. Then elect true Representatives for those Districts. Wanna guess how long those Representatives will serve if they spend money like that?

SeniorD on July 17, 2008 at 6:23 PM

If Italy is the most Catholic of nations, [fill in the blank]

corona on July 17, 2008 at 6:46 PM

The Mark Twain quotes don’t seem to age, do they? LOL

Thanks guys

deedtrader on July 17, 2008 at 7:43 PM