Con(gress) Air – Where the Tax Payers Get taken for a Ride
By: Warner Todd Huston
Nancy Pelosi, in the run up to the 2006 midterms, decried the Republican Congress’ “culture of corruption” and triumphantly claimed she was going to bring back an “ethical” Congress upon the close of the elections. The Democrat Party delighted in the real ills of lobbyist Jack Abramoff and the fictional ills of the evil genius Karl Rove and spared no expense to tout their warnings to the electorate. Their efforts seemed to succeed in gaining them a majority. So, what are the reforms this new, glorious era has produced now that the Democrat Party has retaken Congress?
For one thing, instead of decreasing junkets by Congressmen such trips have not abated at all in this new “ethical” Congress. As Examiner correspondent, Charles Hurt, reports, “Congress is keeping Andrews Air Force base plenty busy this year ferrying lawmakers all over the globe at taxpayersâ€™ expense.”
All told, the military flew at least 13 congressional delegations to various destinations during the Easter recess — at an estimated rate of $10,000 or more per flying hour.
Some may say that these junkets (sometimes termed “fact finding missions”) are integral to Congressional duties. Perhaps. But, didn’t Pelosi claim that she was going to instill new rules that would force members to toe the line and bring this new ethical Congress into being? Yet, after only being Speaker for a few months, Pelosi is making a habit of relaxing those “tough” rules now that the Democrats are safely elected.
The congressional delegation trips, known as CODELs, are paid for by taxpayers. They are supposed to be directly related to membersâ€™ official duties, and House guidelines also stipulate that delegations include members of both parties to qualify for military planes — a requirement that Speaker Nancy Pelosi waived for Engelâ€™s group and two other delegations.
Hurt reports on (repeated) trips to the Caribbean, Estiona, the UK and European Union, and Belgium.
Of the Belgium trip an unnamed member of Congress told the Examiner, “Weâ€™re at war with Iraq and Afghanistan, but apparently our members see Belgium as our most urgent international destination.”
Pelosi hasn’t just hypocritically relaxed rules for her Congressional pals and their little trips on military craft, but she has also allowed a change in the January enacted a ban on members of Congress accepting air travel on private jets. Yes, it was just last January that Congress put the breaks on members accepting free trips on private jets, that are usually owned and operated by lobbying firms, because of all the kickback scandals of the previous election cycle.
Now, only five months later, Pelosi’s Congress has relaxed those restrictions, too.
As John Kass of the Chicago Tribune puts it:
Now, if someone wants to offer the use of a private plane to a congressman, the congressman can accept it, with one caveat. The congressman must have an existing “personal friendship” with the person providing the air travel.
Lobbyists can have friends, too, can’t they?
Worse, the Democrats pushed this change through in the middle of the night in a midnight, voice only vote when they imagined no one would notice.
Kass seems to think that, unless they shape up, their hypocrisy will get the newly ensconced Democrat Congress a vote off the island come 2008. I beg to differ. In fact, I’d lay odds that this story will not be much reported upon by the MSM and the American people won’t even have their attention drawn to the story. And it is for sure the weak GOP won’t be able to successfully make the point a successful campaign issue in the coming months, either.
So, the public will go off living their daily lives blissfully unaware the Pelosi’s “more ethical” Congress has made no changes to bring about any more ethical aspects to their mode of operation. And, in fact, have backslid even from the changes made as a last ditch vote getting measure by the embattled GOP Congress in the waning days before the 2006 election.
But, rest assured. If the MSM could figure out how they could spin this so that it was really all Bush’s fault, we’d never hear the end of it.