Lawmakers will no longer be able to use military aircraft to go on congressional delegations, known as CODELs, to foreign countries after the sequester kicks in, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) told his caucus Wednesday.
Congressmen regularly use military planes to visit foreign countries on "official" business, a cost imposed on the U.S. taxpayer. But after March 1 when the looming across-the-board automatic spending cuts dictated by the 2011 Budget Control Act go into effect, lawmakers will have to foot their own bill and fly commercial, if they want to visit foreign leaders in far off lands.
Boehner delivered the tough-love message to members of the House GOP caucus on Wednesday during a meeting on the next continuing resolution appropriations bill, which included an update on House efforts to comply with the sequester, a House GOP leadership aide told The Cable.
"The House Administration Committee has already notified leadership, committee, and member offices in the House that there will be spending cuts in their offices to comply with the sequester. And the speaker told the members today that in addition to those spending cuts, he is suspending the use of military aircraft for official travel by House members," the aide said. "The Speaker believes this is the prudent and responsible course of action, and it goes above and beyond the spending cuts the House will be implementing to comply with the president's sequester."
Over the last congressional recess alone, there were a host of lawmakers gallivanting around the globe. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez (D-NJ) went to Afghanistan. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) went to Mexico (he flew commercial). Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) went to Israel and Jordan. Senate Foreign Relations Committee ranking Republican Bob Corker (R-TN) went to Tunisia, Mali, Senegal, and Algeria. Sens. Chris Coons (D-DE) and Johnny Isakson (R-GA) traveled with Reps. Karen Bass (D-CA) and Terri Sewell (D-AL) on a trip to Mali, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and South Africa ... just to name a few.
Many of these trips are substantive; some are less so. There has long been suspicion that trips to certain locations -- often tropical or tourist destinations with little relation to foreign policy or national security -- are just taxpayer-funded vacations for lawmakers and their spouses.
According to Legistorm, the list of the top 20 countries visited by congressmen on official travel includes France, Germany, Belgium, Italy, Switzerland, Brazil, and Costa Rica.
There's a requirement that each day of official travel include one meeting with a foreign official, however. Fun fact: congressional aides told The Cable that the foreign official who has held the most audiences with American lawmakers over the years is none other than the mayor of Machu Picchu, Peru. Money well spent.
John Hudson reports on national security and foreign policy from the Pentagon to Foggy Bottom, the White House to Embassy Row, for The Cable.