Wednesday, October 10, 2012

As their time in Congress ends, departees (forced or voluntary) may wonder about their remaining travel perks -- Al Kamen's on the case


It's time for all those departing congresspersons to pack up their stuff, including all the goodies they've accumulated over their years of service to their country.

by Ken

In just a couple of months an unusually large number of members of Congress (or so it seems to me; I'm sure somebody's got the comparative numbers) will finish packing up their offices for the long trip home -- or to K Street, if they've been able to latch on in these tough economic times. (You can be sure now that some of those imminent refugees are regretting not having been even more docile and subservient to the status quo, or perhaps more vocally docile and subservient to the status quo.)

When I wrote last night about the team of Washington Post reporters' report on the healthy number of congresspersons the team found profiting from legislation the members had backed, and in many cases helped craft, there was one image I kept thinking of which didn't find its way into the post. It's an image from the dazzling just-unreeled season of Showtime and the BBC's sitcom Episodes (which I just wrote about), and it involves the female half of the British TV writing team at the center of the show, which has been brought to the U.S. to do an American version of their much-loved British show.

We have been led to think of Beverly (played by Tamsin Greig) as, by and large, the level-headed, by-the-numbers half of the team, but we learn as the Lincolns attend the do for their studio boss Merc's coronation as Man of the Year that Beverly is a goody-bag-aholic. And sure enough, at the end of what turns into a general debacle, there she is gathering the unclaimed goody bags she has targeted.

Somehow that has become my image of the moment for Congress. In Beverly's case, at least, there truly isn't anything illegal or unethical about the gathering of the goody bags -- it's just perhaps gauche. But after all, she didn't steal anything; these are all goody bags that were either unassigned or left behind by rich people too rich or bored to trouble to take theirs with them. It's a wonderful image of Beverly's particular adaptation to the culture of mindless indulgence she has found herself plunked into. Why shouldn't she "rescue" those abandoned goody bags? (And we inveterate TV watchers know how pricey the goodies stuffed in them can be. Surely everyone remembers Entourage's hilarious take on the subject.)

Congressional goody-bag-aholism seems to me a lot less innocent, and yet a playing out of the same naturally greedy impulse to snatch up everything in the joint that isn't nailed down (and maybe carry a good nail-removing device for some of the ritzier stuff that is nailed down). The kind of greed we were looking at last night takes it a step further, to legislating with the intent of enriching oneself or one's people.

There is a difference, I think, between simply pocketing all the swag that lobbyists hurl at members just for more or less promising to vote right (the chief incentive against voting wrong being not violation of a solemn promise but the prospect of being cut off from future swag), which after all you would probably be doing anyway, after all, and actually manipulating the legislative process. But just snatching up every goody in sight, isn't that what the job is about -- just like Beverly scoring all those Man of the Year goody bags?

Which brings us to a tricky situation facing those soon-to-be congressional departees. What about congressional travel perks? Not to worry, that intrepid custodian of our nation's pols Al Kamen has guidelines for them in his Washington Post "In the Loop" column.
Go before you go

Attention, lame-duck members of Congress! You might be busy angling for that cushy private-sector job, packing up office mementos and Internet-shopping for new golf clubs, but there’s another task for your to-do list.

The window for you to travel on the taxpayer dime is closing, so if there’s an international landmark you’re itching to see, time’s a-wasting.

While some lame ducks have already taken advantage of the opportunity to travel, those whose terms are ending have less than a month to schedule and take that last jaunt.

Members of Congress — even those who are retiring (paging Sen. Joe Lieberman !) or who were defeated in their primaries (Sen. Dick Lugar ) — may still travel on publicly funded codels (congressional delegations) right up until the November election.

As usual, those wanting to take privately funded trips have to get permission ahead of time and show that the trip is connected to official business — which might be a tough sell when you’re headed for the door.

The House provides this guidance for privately funded trips: generally, fact-finding missions are a no-no (because what would one do with said facts upon return?), but travel to give speeches is considered kosher.

So pack the bags now — you can always pick out that new 9-iron when you get home.
Bon voyage, congressional departees. And thank you for your service to your country.

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At 10:07 PM, Anonymous ap215 said...

To the good congressional members who are leaving & stood up for the people thank you for your service & to the bad ones thanks for nothing.


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