Friday, January 05, 2007


yesterday, nancy pelosi shattered the congressional glass ceiling by being the first woman speaker of the house. she's now only two heartbeats away from the presidency: if bush and cheney were to both meet some tragic fate, we'd have president pelosi.

now the house, newly led by democrats, is hard at work enacting its "first 100 hours" package of reforms. one of the first bills to be passed was a bill proposing restrictions on house members accepting privately funded travel. the bill soared through the house, 430-1. and who was the lone dissenter, bravely standing up for his right to go on expensive junkets with lobbyists? as we learn from gary welsh, who links to this indy star piece (and who was calmed down a bit since the elections, though his comments section hasn't improved much), it was indiana's own dan burton! way to go, dan!

the star article is a little confusing, because it compares indiana's congresspeople to each other, but not to congressfolks from other states. i.e., it has passages like this:

Burton, who could not be reached by phone after the evening vote, took the single most expensive trip by the delegation last year. Burton and his wife traveled to Taiwan on a $15,520 trip paid for by the ROC-USA Business Council.

Burton, a member of the House International Relations Committee, has accepted more than a dozen trips to Taiwan for himself or his aides over the past decade.

that "of the delegation" means that, compared only to the 11 people who represent indiana in the US congress, burton took the most expensive trip. now that's informative, but it would be even more helpful if he were compared to representatives from other states. a $15k junket sounds like a lot to those of us who only earn $20k–$30k a year, but is that expensive by congressional standards, or has indiana's delegation simply been reluctant (or unable) to cash in on all that free travel? is his 12 trips to taiwan a lot, or is it just a lot for indiana?

that's the kind of perspective we need, and the star gives it to us when it discusses dick lugar:

The biggest traveler was U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., who usually lands on lists of most-traveled lawmakers because of the frequent trips to conferences around the world put on by the Aspen Institute, a think tank. Although the conferences are typically in desirable locales, and spouses are invited, the conferences are weeklong policy seminars that do not involve lobbyists.

Four of the seven privately funded trips Lugar took last year were put on by the Aspen Institute. That number was down from the 12 Lugar took in 2005.

so, out of the 11 people who represent indiana in the US congress, lugar has accepted the most privately funded trips. this is hardly surprising, considering that lugar is Mr. Serious Foreign Policy Expert. but he also accepts so much free travel that he often turns up on "most-travelled sentators" lists. and of course, the new house rules don't apply to senator lugar, but it's possible the senate might soon follow suit with its own new lobbying restrictions.

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