Hey, remember last week, when Congress filled a room full of bank CEOs, to yell at them for wasting taxpayer money. Yeah, it was basically a theatrical event. And sure, if you look hard enough, I'm sure you'll find some of those "pot-kettle-black" instances where your Congressperson has wasted their own share of money. But you know what? To be fair, you really should look a little bit harder than Jonathan Karl and ABC News did for their article, "Congress Travels Free on Taxpayers' Dime," which depicts serious and substantive work as frivolous, and from which the palpable stench of asininity emanates.
My does ABC News lay it on thick! The subhed comes with terrifying scare quotes ("U.S. Air Force Flies Bipartisan Congressional Group to Europe to 'Build Relationships'")! The photo caption contains an editorial admonishment ("Lawmakers, who chastised CEOs for using private jets, should look at themselves."). And in case YOU JUST HAVE NOT GOTTEN IT, readers are invited to learn more about these horrible money-wasting hypocrites by browsing related stories on "Congressional boondoggles," "AIG resort junkets...caught on tape," and how BofA CEO John Thain "was living large."
In the article itself, Karl discusses the case of Representative John Tanner of Tennessee. He's been "travel[ing] the world on the taxpayers' dime" as "members of so-called congressional delegations, or 'CoDels.'"
A bipartisan group of members of Congress and their spouses went on an official trip to Europe this week, traveling through Brussels, Vienna, Paris -- where they spent Valentine's Day -- and the Bavarian Alps.
As is the case with almost all of these congressional trips, they were able to avoid annoying airport lines, frustrating flight delays and baggage nightmares, because they were flown at no cost to them by the Air Force. Commercial airfare for a comparable trip across Europe would cost roughly $10,000 per person. A good deal on a private charter flight for a trip like this would be at least $200,000.
It's quite a picture they've painted of this utter monster, John Tanner! Now, here's what they left out:
Tanner chairs the U.S. Delegation to the NATO Parliamentary Assembly and serves as the President of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly. As it turns out, their work in Europe is nothing like going on a golfing junket with Duke Cunningham! The work of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly includes the furtherance of our alliances with other member nations, as well as a ton of heavy lifting where NATO engagement in Afghanistan is concerned.
Randy Ford, who serves as Tanner's communications director, says ABC News has "very unfairly portrayed" the work of these CoDels, which are not to be confused with vacations: "It's wall-to-wall meetings with a fifteen-minute coffee break. Working lunch, working dinner. It's very, very brutal."
Citing security concerns, Ford was unable to release the minute-by-minute tick-tock of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly meetings, but proffered the following list of activities:
Among other scheduled events, the group will:
·participate in meetings of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, presided over by Congressman Tanner.
·meet with NATO defense and military officials, NATO Secretary General Jaap de hoop Scheffer and General John Craddock, Supreme Allied Commander Europe.
·tour the NATO Special Operations Forces Coordination Center.
·discuss the global economic crisis with members of the NATO Economic and Security Committee.
·participate in meetings of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in Paris and discussions with OECD Secretary General Angel Gurria.
·participate in meetings of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) in Vienna, including a speech by Congressman Tanner and a briefing from OSCE Secretary General Marc Perrin de Brichambaut.
·tour the NATO School, NATO's key training facility on the operational level, in Oberammergau, Germany.
·visit the George C. Marshall Center in Garmisch, Germany, a renowned international security and defense studies institute that promotes dialogue and understanding among the nations of North America, Europe, Eurasia and beyond.
Of course, as Karl points out, the delegation spent a day in Paris, France, which sounds ultra-fancy! "Yes," Ford replied, "They spent one day in Paris. That's where the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development is." By similar coincidence, one must travel to Brussels, Belgium if one wants to visit NATO Headquarters.
In addition, Karl makes a huge stink about how the spouses of these CoDels are also taken abroad, to these terrifically fun-sounding trips:
Tanner also defended the practice of bringing spouses on the congressional trip.
"NATO parliamentarians in Europe have wives. Our wives go to embassies in these countries we visit..." he said. "Whether it is going to schools, orphanages, libraries, whatever that is what our wives do ... there is no extra expense."
Dig those ellipses! Here's some stuff that may be hiding behind them, that Karl could have probably told you but chooses not to: first, the wives of these CoDels have meetings and work of their own during these trips. But more importantly, Ford notes that spouses pay their own way.
Ford tells me, "We have worked extensively with the media, including ABC News, to talk about the importance of these trips and how they relate critically to the important work being done in Afghanistan. Some members of the media simply choose to not focus on that substance." If anyone wants to get a true sense of the substantive work being done in the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, I'd recommend they read Congressman Tanner's remarks in the Congressional Record on the matter from March 5 and June 10 of 2008.
Finally, I'd like to point out that Karl's story actually contains this ridiculous sentence:
According to congressional records, over the past year, [U.S. Rep. Gary] Ackerman has traveled on congressional trips to Iraq and Afghanistan -- but to more exotic destinations as well, including Italy, Slovenia and England.
Oh, yes! England, and their "exotic" and inscrutable language and customs!
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