The historian Suetonius wrote that Emperor Nero was responsible for the fire that devastated Rome in 64 AD. Suetonius claimed that Nero watched the fires from a tower as he played an instrument and sang of the devastation of Troy. The story is immortalized in the phrase “fiddling while Rome burns.”
I often think of this phrase when I contemplate the U.S. Congress. They ignore real problems while they focus on self-serving tasks like globe-trotting. And trust me… there’s no shortage of trotting going on.
In 2012, 172 House members visited over 90 countries and every continent except Antarctica. Because the finances of these trips are closely-guarded secrets, it’s nearly impossible to know how much taxpayer money was spent.
What we DO know is that congressmen often travel by military aircraft, and these flights can cost the taxpayers as much as $10,000 per hour to operate.
So even though congressmen like to complain about being underpaid (their average salary is $174,000 a year – much higher than the median American household income of $50,000), they never count the tax-free perks.
Wouldn’t you love to ring the Pentagon and have them fire up one of the 300-plus VIP jets they own? It gives new meaning to the world of private air travel… and the bill goes elsewhere!
Some Generous Perks
In 2012, France, Ireland, and Spain were among the five most frequently reported destinations for U.S. House of Representatives members. 73 members enjoyed the fine hotels of one of those countries, while none reported visiting Iraq.
Other locations visited include the sun-drenched Mediterranean island Malta, as well as the exclusive enclave of the rich and famous, Monaco, on the French Riviera. We’re sure that nothing but business happened in either of these famous ports of call.
According to an investigative report by Jeremy Wallace of the Herald-Tribune in Sarasota, Florida:
• Former Rep. David Dreier (R-Calif.) was the most traveled, spending 58 days overseas and visiting at least 18 countries at a minimum cost of $67,000 to taxpayers.
• A month after returning from Monaco, Democrat Dennis Cardoza, also of California – who announced in 2011 he was leaving Congress – spent seven days in Ireland, Greece, Italy, Spain, and Portugal, then abruptly quit the House just three days after returning to the U.S.
• California Republican Dana Rohrabacher billed the government for the single most expensive trip, a seven-day excursion to Germany in January 2012 that cost taxpayers $38,382.
But not all of our representatives are bad apples. One of my favorites in Congress, Rep. Walter Jones of North Carolina, has bravely spoken out against the travel perks. He has repeatedly introduced a bill to restrict foreign travel for only the most crucial trips. But the bill would restrict travel in ways other members abhor, so this important bill nearly always dies the day it’s introduced.
A Hidden Agenda
We can all agree that lavish vacations are great. But you may wonder why members love to travel abroad SO often.
Well, it’s likely that they’re fishing for clients. You see, the vast majority of former members of the U.S. Congress become lobbyists. Their goal is to land the most lucrative of lobbying positions… foreign registered agent.
As a foreign registered agent, you get to travel abroad at the taxpayers’ expense. Then you meet some top government officials from the countries you visit, hit it off, strike a deal, and you’re set for life.
A slew of former Congress members incur generous compensation from countries and special interests around the globe. Global special interests have a lot of money to spend.
In addition, foreign contacts can also result in big dollar donations. Last year, registered foreign agents reported giving $4.3 million in political donations. And they even admitted giving almost $2 million to congressional campaigns alone.
It’s a complete racket, but it’s being perpetrated by the very people who have the power to stop it. To Congress, foreign travel is as American as apple pie. So much for promises of reform.
This article originally appeared at CapitolHillDaily.com and is reprinted here with permission.
Photo credit: Jessie Owen (Creative Commons)