WSJ – Congress’s Travel Tab Swells; Bennie Thompson to Brazil, Argentina, Peru and Panama

Spending by lawmakers on taxpayer-financed trips abroad has risen sharply in recent years, a Wall Street Journal analysis of travel records shows, involving everything from war-zone visits to trips to exotic spots such as the Galápagos Islands.

The spending on overseas travel is up almost tenfold since 1995, and has nearly tripled since 2001, according to the Journal analysis of 60,000 travel records. Hundreds of lawmakers traveled overseas in 2008 at a cost of about $13 million. That’s a 50% jump since Democrats took control of Congress two years ago.

The cost of so-called congressional delegations, known among lawmakers as “codels,” has risen nearly 70% since 2005, when an influence-peddling scandal led to a ban on travel funded by lobbyists, according to the data.

Rep. Bennie Thompson (D., Miss.), the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, led a group to Brazil, Argentina, Peru and Panama. “This trip further solidified the message that homeland security does not begin or end at our borders,” says Mr. Thompson’s spokeswoman.

The congressional trips are possible thanks in part to an unlimited fund created by a three-decade old law. Nearly two dozen government officials work full-time organizing the trips. Much of the costs are not made public, including the cost of flying on government jets. The Air Force maintains a fleet of 16 passenger planes for use by lawmakers.

Wall Street Journal
7/2/9