So, pot calling the kettle black, conservative Blue Dogs who scream for fiscal responsibility? Where’s the irony in this…hope it makes your blood boil..
Congress Travels More, Public Pays
Lawmakers Ramp Up Taxpayer-Financed Journeys; Five Days in Scotland
EDINBURGH — The expenses racked up by U.S. lawmakers traveling here for a conference last month included one for the “control room.”
Besides rooms for sleeping, the 12 members of the House of Representatives rented their hotel’s fireplace-equipped presidential suite and two adjacent rooms. The hotel cleared out the beds and in their place set up a bar, a snack room and office space. The three extra rooms — stocked with liquor, Coors beer, chips and salsa, sandwiches, Mrs. Fields cookies and York Peppermint Patties — cost a total of about $1,500 a night. They were rented for five nights.
While in Scotland, the House members toured historic buildings. Some shopped for Scotch whisky and visited the hotel spa. They capped the trip with a dinner at one of the region’s finest restaurants, paid for by the legislators, who got $118 daily stipends for meals and incidentals.
Eleven of the 12 legislators then left the five-day conference two days early.
The tour provides a glimpse of the mixture of business and pleasure involved in legislators’ overseas trips, which are growing in number and mostly financed by the taxpayer. Lawmakers travel with military liaisons who carry luggage, help them through customs, escort them on sightseeing trips and stock their hotel rooms with food and liquor. Typically, spouses come along, flying free on jets operated by the Air Force. Legislative aides come too. On the ground, all travel in chauffeured vehicles.
Getty ImagesRep. John Tanner led a trip to Edinburgh.
The lawmakers were in Scotland to meet with foreign officials and attend a conference of U.S. and European legislators called the NATO Parliamentary Assembly. A spokesman for Tennessee Democratic Rep. John Tanner, the leader of the delegation of eight Democratic and four Republican House members, said the conference provided “the opportunity to learn first-hand the views and concerns that other countries have over the key security issues of the day.”
Such gatherings also allow legislators to meet “members of parliaments who play important roles in their own countries in shaping the security agenda that their governments pursue at NATO,” added Mr. Tanner’s spokesman, Randy Ford. As for the three rented rooms not used for sleeping, these provided a “secure space for members to conduct meetings,” he said.
Lawmakers take scores of overseas trips each year to visit military bases, meet foreign officials, attend conferences and see how U.S. funds are spent. Ever since a corruption scandal in 2005 led to restrictions on privately funded travel, legislators have been taking more trips paid for by the government.
The cost they reported for such travel abroad was $13 million in 2008, a 70% jump from 2005, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of travel records. Lawmakers don’t have to report the cost of domestic travel when the government pays. The $13 million didn’t include the expense of flying on Air Force planes, which lawmakers don’t have to disclose.
Over the 2005-08 period, the cost of legislators’ privately funded travel, both domestic and overseas, fell 70%, to $2.9 million, according to LegiStorm.com, a Web site that tracks it.
Members of Congress who went to Scotland for a conference also saw the sights:
T.W. Farnam/The Wall Street JournalTheir Air Force plane, and arriving back in Washington.
Brody Mullins/The Wall Street JournalTheir Air Force plane
Associated PressRosslyn Chapel
Associated PressThe Palace of Holyroodhouse
Brody Mullins/The Wall Street JournalEdinburgh Castle
Lawmakers must reveal only general information about the travel, such as countries visited. Several weeks after a trip, they report the overall cost, without a detailed breakdown. This account of congressional travel is based on trip itineraries provided by lawmakers, meeting schedules and what two Journal reporters saw. Mr. Tanner’s office and other lawmakers confirmed many details of the account and didn’t dispute the others.
The blending of business and pleasure on the trip to Scotland was typical, aides and lawmakers say. In August, two Republican senators, Richard Shelby of Alabama and John Cornyn of Texas, went to Europe with their wives and aides to meet with banking regulators and industry executives. Military officials picked up Mr. Shelby’s luggage at his office. A separate government car drove him and his wife to the airport. “That is typically how the military handles departures on congressional delegations,” said a spokesman for the senator.
His spokesman, Jonathan Graffeo, said the trip’s chief purpose was to discuss with foreign officials the global financial crisis and regulatory reform. The senators spent the first five days in Germany, where they had three meetings with banking officials, according to an itinerary and Mr. Graffeo. They also were briefed on port security and had dinner with industry and government officials.
Among side trips they took were two tours in vans driven by U.S. Embassy staff, including one along the Rhine, where they stopped at a heavy-metal festival. The trip cost about $70,000, according to a travel disclosure form filled out by the senators. A spokesman for Mr. Cornyn declined to comment.
In September, five senators went to England for four days to attend a conference with British lawmakers. The senators and four of their wives stayed at the Danesfield House Hotel & Spa overlooking the River Thames, in $340-a-night rooms, according to an itinerary and the office of the group leader, Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont.
One evening, they took a riverboat cruise on the Thames, paid for by their British hosts. Another day, they had a private tour of Windsor Castle, said David Carle, a spokesman for Mr. Leahy.
While the senators attended the conference, their wives shopped and toured Cliveden Manor, a home once owned by the Astor family. There they had a traditional English cream tea that cost $40 a person. The tea was paid for by the British government, according to Mr. Carle.
It is “useful for our leaders to talk with other countries’ leaders, and it’s fitting that the Senate’s oldest exchange program is this one, with the British Parliament,” Mr. Carle said. He said there are “social and cultural components…and the hosts try to make them interesting as well as practical.”
The conference attended by Mr. Tanner’s group in Scotland, the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, isn’t affiliated with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. It provides a forum for lawmakers from NATO countries and several others to discuss security and political and economic matters, its Web site says.
The group flew on a passenger plane provided by the Air Force. Accompanying them were five legislative aides and the spouses of nine of the 12 House members.
Lawmakers say traveling with spouses compensates for being away from them at lot in Washington. Rep. David Scott (D., Ga.) sees his family on weekends and often attends public events during that time, “so having a spouse travel helps keep the family together,” said his chief of staff, Michael Andel.
In Edinburgh, the lawmakers stayed at the Sheraton Grand Hotel & Spa. With “state-of-the-art spa and leisure facilities including a rooftop indoor/outdoor pool,” says Frommer’s guidebook, “this hotel pretty much has it all.”
The group stayed in top-floor rooms overlooking the 12th-century Edinburgh Castle. The government rate for the rooms is at least $300 a night, according to the hotel. On top of that was the control room of three adjoining rooms stripped of beds. Lawmakers and aides say a control room is necessary to provide work space, meeting rooms and easy access to American-style food.
Two Air Force liaisons went to a wine and liquor store called Oddbins. With one aide reading from a shopping list for scotch, they bought three bottles of 12-year old Auchentoshon for $42 apiece and a bottle of 14-year old Clynelish for $52, according to the clerk who rang up their order. Mr. Tanner’s spokesman said the group reimbursed the military liaisons.
The overall cost to the government of the trip won’t be public for a few weeks. Mr. Tanner has taken seven previous trips to the NATO assembly. Their total reported cost, for him and his co-travelers, came to $575,000, not including the undisclosed cost of travel on Air Force planes.
Mr. Tanner is a founder of the Blue Dog Coalition, a group of conservative Democrats dedicated to curbing government spending and balancing the budget. On his Web site is a ticker keeping tabs on the national debt. Five of the eight Democrats on the trip were Blue Dogs.
The conference ran Friday through Tuesday. Everyone except Mr. Tanner skipped the last two days. Two of the lawmakers, including Mr. Tanner, aren’t seeking re-election next year.
The first day there were meetings of the NATO organization’s leadership. Half of the legislators, not being in the leadership, instead traveled with a group of spouses to Glasgow. There, according to a spokesman for one House member, they met with some Scottish officials.
Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D., N.Y.) attended the conference in Edinburgh on Friday but left at 4:30 p.m. and went to the spa. On Sunday, the third meeting day, she spent some time in the afternoon walking around Edinburgh and shopping at the House of Fraser, a department store.
Ms. McCarthy said she paid for the spa treatment herself and went “partly due to the fact that over the summer I underwent major back surgery.” She also said her back “tightens up and I need to go for walks from time to time to stretch it out.” On one such walk, she said, she passed the department store and purchased a few items.
While in Edinburgh, the lawmakers visited the Scottish Parliament to meet with officials and tour the building. They visited Edinburgh Castle for more meetings and another private tour. They also toured Rosslyn Chapel, a 500-year-old church featured in Dan Brown’s novel “The Da Vinci Code.”
They dined at the 900-year-old Palace of Holyroodhouse, the Queen’s official residence in Scotland. A bagpiper played as they stepped off the bus. The U.K. government paid for the dinner, Mr. Tanner’s office said.
The group had a bus and a Mercedes minivan at their disposal for touring, shopping trips and transportation to dinners and the conference. The quoted rate for the two vehicles and their drivers is $2,500 a day.
On Sunday evening, the last night for most of the lawmakers, they, their spouses and the congressional aides were seated in a private dining room at the Rhubarb restaurant, which has been described in the Sunday Times of London as “the preferred destination for cash-flash celebrities.” For a private dinner, the restaurant offers dishes including grouse with sauerkraut and prunes with Armangnac for $54 and a 12-ounce Chateaubriand steak with béarnaise sauce and Madeira jus, for two, at $106. Mr. Tanner’s spokesman said the lawmakers paid with their own money.
“That was awesome,” Rep. Jo Ann Emerson (R., Mo.) said to one of her companions afterward. A spokesman for Ms. Emerson said he didn’t know what such a remark would have been about and couldn’t confirm it.
Early Monday morning, military escorts helped the 11 who were leaving early to check out, while hotel staff loaded a truck with luggage and shopping purchases. The hotel billed the delegation $200 for hauling suitcases and suit bags, seven brown boxes, a liquor box and a large white cooler.
An hour later, the lawmakers’ bus left for the airport with everyone except Mr. Tanner and two aides, who were staying for the last two days of the conference. The bus drove directly to an Air Force DC-9 waiting on the tarmac. After they landed in the U.S., a van and a bus brought them back to Capitol Hill.
The lawmakers, spouses and aides chatted in front of the Rayburn House Office Building. Rep. Baron Hill (D., Ind.) hugged Georgia Rep. Scott’s wife and said: “It was fun.”
A spokeswoman for Mr. Hill said the congressman doesn’t recall making the comment and could have been “talking about the bus ride, some random event or life in general.” Mr. Scott’s spokesman said Mr. Hill was “just saying goodbye.”