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Corruption Chronicles

Congress Slaps U.S. Taxpayers With Huge Travel Bill

While members of Congress criticize executives of bailed out companies for taking too many costly trips to resorts, their taxpayer-funded travel—often to exotic spots unrelated to their official duties—has increased drastically. 

U.S. taxpayers dished out $13 million for hundreds of federal lawmakers and their families to travel overseas in 2008 alone and the tab will only get bigger. A newspaper’s thorough analysis of 60,000 congressional travel records reveals that spending on overseas travel is up almost tenfold since 1995 and has nearly tripled since 2001. 

Since Democrats took control of Congress two years ago, the cost of overseas travel for legislators and their families has jumped 50%. A few have traveled to war zones (undoubtedly for favorable sound bites) but mainly they have gone to locations unrelated to their work, such as the Galapagos Islands, Paris, Italy, New Zealand and Japan.  

Just last summer, Washington Democrat Brian Baird took a four-day trip to the Galapagos—a group of volcanic islands off the South American coast—with his wife, four other lawmakers and their family members. They spent $22,000 on meals and hotels, according to the newspaper report. A member of the House Science Committee, Baird said the trip was essential to learn about global warming.

Earlier this year House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (of Air Pelosi fame) made an eight-day pit stop in Italy, along with eight other lawmakers and their entourage of spouses, en route to Afghanistan to supposedly check up on U.S. troops. The group spent nearly $60,000 on hotel and meals in Italy though it’s unclear what exactly their official mission was there. 

On a separate European jaunt, Alabama Republican Bud Cramer racked up a $5,700 tab for two weeks even though he wasn’t running for reelection and his term expired just two months later. Mississippi Democrat Bennie Thompson, who chairs the House Homeland Security Committee, took a group to Brazil, Argentina, Peru and Panama to solidify the message that “homeland security does not begin or end at our borders.”

Members of Congress have for decades been given carte blanche to travel wherever they want with their family and stick taxpayers with the hefty tab. Nearly two dozen full-time government employees organize the trips and the Air Force maintains a fleet of 16 passenger planes for many of the trips. In many ways the federal lawmakers are like the executives of the government bailed out companies they love to criticize. 


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