Congress' Frequent Fliers Have Habit for Freebies
DANIEL SCHORR reporting:
When did wanderlust become a sin?
LIANE HANSEN, host:
NPR's Senior News Analyst Daniel Schorr.
SCHORR: I can imagine that members of Congress and their staffs, after working over a hot earmark all day, would enjoy traveling to some distant place, and I can imagine that not wanting the government to be saddled with the cost, they would find some public-spirited lobby to foot the tab. So why do public interest organizations like the Center for Public Integrity make such a fuss about it when they find that over a period of about five years legislators and their aides took at least 23,000 trips costing a total of about $50 million?
One can immediately understand why Senator Richard Lugar, Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, would want to visit some of our foreign relations like Finland, Mexico, Grand Cayman Islands. And why Republican Representative Thomas Bliley of Virginia would want to spend some time in London as a guest of the British American Tobacco Company, a customer for Virginia tobacco. And why San Diego Representative Randy Cunningham took many trips - that is, before he went to jail - as guests of General Atomics, whose Predator unmanned spy plane was developed in his district.
But is there any real need to dwell on these coincidences. Let me just mention some of the champion freebie travelers; that is, members and staff who took more than 200 trips in those five and a half years. Tom DeLay, former Majority Leader; John Baynor, current Majority Leader; and Dennis Hastert, Speaker; and many more Republicans. Few Democrats because being out of power, they're less able to express their gratitude. But one Democrat who caught my eye was Charles Rangel of New York, who journeyed to Cuba and met Fidel Castro, the trip bankrolled by Gristedes Foods and the Cuban Government.
Cuba was an unusual destination for Congressional frequent flyers. The favorite destinations for these fact-finding sorties were Paris, 200 times, Hawaii, 150 times, and Italy, 140. I imagine the legislators got to keep their frequent flyer miles, but who could begrudge them that? This is Daniel Schorr.
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