Members of Congress may be telling others to cut back and criticizing corporate CEOs for lavish perks, but taxpayer-paid junkets are on the increase in the House and Senate and family members often go along for the ride.
A study by the Wall Street Journal shows traveling well at taxpayer expense is a perk that hasn’t been cut back in these financially-trouble times. To the contrary, travel is up and the costs continue to rise.
Members of Congress usually fly on government planes and bring their spouses along at taxpayer expense. They stay in expensive hotels, shop at a discount in embassy gift shops and eat lavishly at top restaurants.
They call these trips "fact-finding tours" but the only facts they obtain are usually information on the best places to sight see, the best places to eat and what other perks might be available.
Golfers in Congress take along their clubs. Spouses bring their shopping lists. At the lavish Paris Air Show in June — where defense contractors ply members of Congress with free booze, gifts and expensive dinners — members lived it up.
Sometimes, the members of Congress and their spouses buy so much that bathrooms on the Air Force planes are turned into storage areas.
As a staff member of the House Committee on Science and Technology, I attended the Paris Air Show in 1985 with a Congressional delegation.
We ate and drank a lot and saw a strip show in Paris but conducted virtually no government business.
The Journal analysis, based on information published in the Congressional Record, also shows that taxpayer-funded travel is a big and growing perk for lawmakers and their families. Some members of Congress have complained in recent months about chief executives of bailed-out banks, insurance companies and car makers who sponsored corporate trips to resorts or used corporate jets for their own travel.
Although complete travel records aren’t yet available for 2009, it appears that such costs continue to rise. The Journal analysis shows that the government has picked up the tab for travel to destinations such as Jamaica, the Virgin Islands and Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.
Lawmakers frequently bring along spouses on congressional trips. If they take commercial flights, they have to buy tickets for spouses. If they fly on government planes — as they usually do — their spouses can fly free.