Published on TheHill.com on June 20, 2007.
Anyone who wonders why Congress has a job approval rating of 23 percent, seven points lower than even Bush’s, need only look at House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) failure to change the ethics of the Congress. Having pledged to make Congress full-time and put the lackadaisical members to work, she then announced a schedule for 2007 in which House members will have 20 weeks off (and when they work, it’s Tuesday to Thursday most of the time).
Now Pelosi has come up with her own version of the No Child Left Behind program by asking the Defense Department to allow adult children of members of Congress to accompany them on their taxpayer-funded travel abroad if their spouses can’t make it. Such heartfelt concern for the lonely congressman on a publicly paid junket may be her version of family values, but it is a waste of tax money.
To understand the depth of the abuse of taxpayer-funded travel, look at one of Pelosi’s favorites, Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.). Miller has been to the following places for free on the taxpayer’s dime between 2000 and 2006:
Mexico, Lebanon, Cambodia (twice), Israel (twice), Vietnam (twice), Jordan, South Africa, Iraq, France, Italy (twice), Hong Kong, Sudan (twice), Taiwan, Ghana, Laos, Liberia, Egypt and Cape Verde.
And Miller does not belong to any congressional committee that deals with foreign relations! During the same period, he has been to 20 other countries for free, paid for by the Aspen Institute. In all, Miller has spent 161 days traveling courtesy of Aspen.
Pelosi’s proposal – and the abuse of free travel by members like Miller – explains why voters can’t stand Congress and illustrates how little improvement there has been under the Democrats.
When his dad became Speaker of the House, Joshua Hastert, son of Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), moved to Washington, closed his record store back home and joined a lobbying firm. He found latent skills at lobbying members like his dad that he never knew he had. Google, recognizing these mythical abilities, hired him as their lobbyist. The Democrats went crazy criticizing abuses like these.
Now that Sen. Harry Reid (Nev.) is the Democratic floor leader, he has not just one but three sons – and a son-in-law – who are lobbyists. One of Reid’s sons, and his son-in-law, has lobbied in Washington; a second son lobbies for the same interests in Nevada; and a third son is an attorney who litigates for them in court. Reid’s lobbyist-sons worked to promote federal land swaps, mining interests and the University of Nevada at Reno.
Not to be outdone, House Minority Whip Roy Blunt’s (R-Mo.) wife, Abigail Perlman, is director of federal government affairs for Altria – the former Philip Morris corporation. Their relationship is one that was hatched in lobbying. While Blunt was dating Abigail, he quietly drafted language to benefit Altria/Philip Morris and tried to sneak it in the bill that established the Department of Homeland Security – without alerting the Republican leadership. Blunt’s mission was to minimize the sale of cigarettes on the Internet, a thorn in the side of Altria/Philip Morris. Fortunately, Hastert killed the amendment.
Of the 100 senators, the sons, daughters, husbands or wives of 20 of them are registered as lobbyists, whose job often boils down to lobbying Mom or Dad. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) is typical of the conflicts that can arise in such a situation. His son Scott Hatch lobbied for the makers of ephedra while his father sponsored legislation to exempt the diet supplement from federal regulation. Scott got paid $2 million in lobbying fees, while Dad got more than $137,000 from the diet supplement industry.
While Pelosi is working on cleaning up Congress, here are a few suggestions for her:
- Ban anyone who is an immediate relative of a member from lobbying Congress.
- Ban members from hiring spouses and other immediate relatives on their official, campaign committee or political action committee payrolls.
- Ban taxpayer-paid travel by anyone but the member himself.
- Get Congress to stay in session full time, not just 32 weeks a year.
If she adopted measures like these, perhaps the American voter would respect her and her party more than they apparently do.