Congress' Travel Hypocrisy?

| Fri Aug. 7, 2009 12:24 PM EDT

This is just odd. In the middle of a recession, after lambasting executives for flying on expensive corporate jets after receiving millions in taxpayer bailout funds, the House has approved $550 million to buy eight new jets for use by members of Congress and their staff, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Lawmakers in the House last week added funds to buy those planes, and plus funds to buy an additional two 737s and two Gulfstream V planes. The purchases must still be approved by the Senate. The Air Force version of the Gulfstream V each costs $66 million, according to the Department of Defense, and the 737s cost about $70 million.

Geoff Morrell, the Pentagon press secretary, said the Department of Defense didn't request the additional planes and doesn't need them. "We ask for what we need and only what we need," he told reporters Wednesday. "We've always frowned upon earmarks and additives that are above and beyond what we ask for."

But don't worry! The Journal also reports that most travel "must be approved by congressional committees." So we can rest assured that even if some freewheeling spenders in Congress want to abuse their travel privileges, others will step in as champions of fiscal responsibility. The Senate still needs to sign off on the decision, but its track record is not promising either—or perhaps their champions of fiscal responsibility were absent earlier this month when Congress approved a tour of Europe for Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) and three other senators and their spouses.

"It's obviously an economically difficult time in this country, so every decision such as this will be looked at with more scrutiny than in times of prosperity" says Dave Levinthal, communications director for the Center for Responsive Politics. "There could indeed be outcry by citizens of this country." But, he says, congressional accountability will depend on how incensed constituents get about wasteful spending. With the public focused on the healthcare debate, an issue that directly impacts their wallets, these kinds of proposals could slip below the radar.

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