Junkets for Politicians

Private groups are paying for members of Congress to see the world. Too shocking. And it’s all on page A1 of the Washington Post:

Over 5 1/2 years, Republican and Democratic lawmakers accepted nearly $50 million in trips, often to resorts and exclusive locales, from corporations and groups seeking legislative favors, according to the most comprehensive study to date on the subject of congressional travel.

From January 2000 through June 2005, House and Senate members and their aides were away from Washington for more than 81,000 days — a combined 222 years — on at least 23,000 trips, according to the report, issued yesterday by the nonpartisan Center for Public Integrity. About 2,300 of the trips cost $5,000 or more, at least 500 cost $10,000 or more, and 16 cost $25,000 or more.

Hmm… paid travel seems to be the holiday gift of choice nowadays. The Post did some stories a while back about corporations that paid for federal judges to fly to some resort or other and attend various seminars. It all looked rather suspicious to the innocent eye. But then again, surely we’d like members of Congress—and maybe even judges—to travel around the world, no? Maybe not to “resorts and exclusive locales” or half-day “seminars” at sunny golf courses paid for by arms dealers, but at least to other countries for genuine fact-finding purposes. Once upon a time a rumor made the rounds that only 10 percent of House members even had passports. Maybe someone made that number up, but it was a bit unnerving, and it’s probably no way to govern.

So maybe the answer is to create some sort of public travel fund for Congress, and ban all private junkets. That would mean that taxpayers would be paying for politicians to go travel the globe, and that’s a bit unseemly, but it would also put a dent in all this legalized bribery. That might even be cheaper in the long run, seeing as how—according to the Post‘s account—all these junkets paid for by Boeing and General Atomics and Northrup Grumman are going to result in Congress buying more and more useless yet expensive high-tech weaponry in the future.