“What’s missing from this Wall Street Journal article about expensive taxpayer-funded congressional travel to exotic locations?” Grist’s Kate Sheppard asked on Monday. “The fact that seven of the 10 representatives who spent about a half a million bucks to go see climate-change-addled penguins actually voted against the House bill [the American Clean Energy and Security Act] that seeks to address the concern.”
Of course, a vote against the Waxman-Markey bill doesn’t mean the trip to Antarctica failed to convince Baird and his colleagues that global warming is a problem (climatologically speaking, the legislation is pretty weak). And they could justify the sojourn on other grounds. The best case to be made, perhaps, is that six of the representatives on the trip are members of the House Science and Technology committee, which has jurisdiction over the National Science Foundation and NASA, which are conducting research in Antarctica.
That was the explanation that Congressman Frank Lucas of Oklahoma (a member of the science committee) gave to the Associated Press after he and Baird caught flak for a separate trip to the Galapagos Islands six months after the Antarctic voyage. Last October, the television show Inside Edition called the Galapagos expedition “the trip of a lifetime on your dime.” In response, Lucas told the AP: “Agriculture is an important aspect of the economy in Oklahoma, and as we have seen in recent years, weather can have a negative impact on our crops. Therefore, the research done [in the Galapagos on El Niño] is important not only to the entire country, but specifically to Oklahoma and the Third Congressional District. … I must ensure proper oversight of these facilities.”
Fair enough. Perhaps. Again, Congressional delegation trips are nothing new. Senator John McCain led expeditions to both Antarctica and the Arctic in 2006. Senator Barbara Boxer took a group of her colleagues to Greenland for a weekend in 2007. And Codels are not limited to climate change.
According to the Journal’s article about Baird’s Antarctic voyage, however, “Taxpayer-funded travel for Congress is booming. Legislators and aides reported spending about $13 million on overseas trips last year, a Journal analysis has shown, a nearly 10-fold jump since 1995.” And most of them get no coverage at all.
It’s time that media began combing through these myriad trips, separating legitimate journeys from frivolous junkets. A great place to start is Foreign Policy’s list of trips taking place this August. When members of Congress return after Labor Day, the press should be waiting… with plenty of hard questions about how, exactly, they spent their summer vacations.