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Weekly Basket: D.C. Legislators Spend Taxpayers Money on Frivolous Trips

  OutragedLead by Example

Volume XVII No. 18: April 27, 2012
 
   People in glass houses should not throw stones. Especially when those houses are in Congress. For weeks now the public has been exposed to the excesses of the General Services Administration (GSA) antics. The conference that was intended to be "over the top" (and it was). The employee produced videos that were at best completely insensitive to the dire fiscal situation facing the nation. The nearly week long trip to Hawaii for a couple hour ribbon cutting on a new federal building.


Congresswoman Jo Ann Emerson (R-MO), chair of the spending subcommittee that oversees the GSA indicated she was "going to be scrubbing the budget even more than we were otherwise going to be doing because of the conference." She should. But so should Rep. Ander Crenshaw (R-FL) who chairs the spending subcommittee that oversees the Congressional budget. Because lawmakers need to look in the mirror and then lead by example. Including just the top ten destinations, so far this year, members of Congress have gone on 90 foreign trips that cost more than $1 million. Last year, the top foreign destinations sawnearly 400 trips worth almost $4 million. And these expenses don't include costs of flying on Air Force planes.

So to paraphrase the bible: Lawmakers, heal thyself.

In fact, the Wall Street Journal wrote about a trip to Scotland that Rep. Emerson participated in back in 2009. Led by soon to be retired Rep. John Tanner (D-TN), a dozen lawmakers from both parties were attending a conference for the NATO Parliamentary Assembly (this is not part of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, but rather a gathering of legislative officials from NATO countries). Accompanied by their spouses and five aides, while there they had U.S. military escorts and stayed at a $300 a night hotel that overlooked Edinburgh Castle. As if foreshadowing the GSA debacle in Vegas, the presidential suite was rented and turned into a party room. Eleven of the twelve lawmakers didn't even stick around for the last two days of the conference.

The Scotland trip was but one of many that lawmakers take every year. Under the right circumstances it can be appropriate for lawmakers to travel and see for themselves issues around the world. But the public should know what they are doing and when. It is very difficult to piece together all the information about Congressional travel. If they are traveling on the taxpayer's dime, information such as who is travelling, the itinerary, lodging, mode of travel should all be made publically available, online, in an understandable manner after the trip. (After the trip for security reasons).

Of course it doesn't end with lawmaker travel, or GSA excess. Secretary of Defense Panetta has spent nearly $1 million flying back and forth to his Monterey, CA home virtually every weekend.

We are staring at deficits that will average $1 trillion a year for the next decade. This on top of an accumulated debt that already exceeds $15 trillion. The economy, while recovering, is still fragile and millions of Americans are out of work. Officials in both the legislative and executive branch have to pay attention to how they are spending taxpayer dollars on themselves. All told the travel money may not move the decimal point on the deficit, but no single spending item will. What opaque and at times obviously wasteful travel does do, is speak volumes about how officials view their responsibility for the public purse. The way to change business as usual and right our fiscal ship is for Congress to lead by example.

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**Taxpayers for Common Sense awarded Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-KY) a Golden Fleece for introducing a bill that should be known as the Riverboat Ripoff. Read more about this fiscally reckless, special interest handout:

Riverboat Ripoff, Whitfield Bill Increases Subsidies for Inland Waterway Industry

 
    
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