America suffers; Congress enjoys traveling

America suffers; Congress enjoys traveling
Would you like to take your wife to Vienna for the week? Maybe you should run for Congress.

A report done by the Daily Beast this week reviewed congressional trip spending and found that a whole lot of lawmakers are visiting exotic locales, often on the taxpayer’s dime.

Members of Congress can travel on taxpayer money and can accept free trips to symposiums too if they are paid for by academic institutions or think tanks. The trip for 20 lawmakers (and most of their spouses) to an Austrian conference on nuclear proliferation cost the Aspen Institute—an international nonprofit dedicated to fostering leadership—$225,000; rooms at the resort typically start at $300 a night. All of this at a time when the national debt is astronomically rising and Congress claims they are committed to cutting back on spending.

The report reveals that since January of this year, lawmakers have taken more than 200 trips funded through private groups at a cost of more than $1 million. The members of Congress that have gone on these jaunts even include politicians who campaigned on platforms of spending reform.

Craig Holman of the consumer advocacy group Public Citizen says that “This is an important issue for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is the fact that millions of dollars are spent on flying lawmakers all around the world.” Adds Holman, “It is a form of influence peddling when sponsored by private entities. When the government pays for it, we need to know that tax dollars are being used wisely instead of funding junkets.”

While many of the excursions are accounted for as research expenditures, the necessity of some of the trips—and the amount they are costing Americans—are sure to raise some eyebrows. Just this May, six members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee went to the Gulf Coast to visit an offshore rig and meet with oil execs. The trip, however, came after the fact that the House had already approved legislation to expedite offshore drilling. One of the attendees, Steve Palazza of Mississippi, attacked frivolous spending last year as he campaigned, saying, “While the rest of the nation has had to tighten their financial belts, the government has loosened theirs. If America’s people must live within their means, shouldn’t its leaders do the same? The answer is yes.” He declined to comment when contacted by The Daily Beast.

Another excursion this past April sent nine lawmakers—and eight of their relatives—to Tel Aviv and Jerusalem for a trip sponsored by the American Israel Education Foundation. That trip, which included a handful of popular tourist destinations and museums, cost the AIPAC affiliate over $160,000.

While details on government-sponsored travel are harder to analyze, the report did reveal that House lawmakers are traveling 35 percent more so far this year than last. Senators spent roughly $1.2 million in just the first few months of 2011.

And, in case you were wondering, the national debt is still at around $14 trillion.