Sequester Impedes Congressional Travel

Friday, 22 Mar 2013 11:43 AM

By Cyrus Afzali

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With the approach of spring, some in Congress are gearing up for those high-flying, all expenses-paid trips abroad known as "codels" traditionally used by lawmakers not only for fact gathering but for lots of relaxation time as well.

But according to The New York Times, there may not be as much travel on the schedule this spring due to the $85 billion in automatic spending cuts that kicked in on March 1.

More lawmakers than usual will be choosing to spend their congressional break at home with family and constituents.

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House Speaker John Boehner suggested last month that lawmakers should avoid codels if possible, given the government's ongoing fiscal problems. And more recently he told House Republicans he would no longer authorize the use of military aircraft for official overseas travel, even to Afghanistan and Iraq.

His decision, a House Armed Services Committee spokesman told the Times, was made to minimize the impact of spending cuts already underway at the Pentagon.

Boehner reiterated that position in an interview with the Times.

“I’ve been clear there’s no military aircraft that I’ll approve during the sequester,” he said. “And if some members believe that they need to travel, do it commercially. They have to make those decisions.”

Some have. Despite the speaker's stand, the Defense Department can still authorize military aircraft for lawmakers' use, as long as they attempt to get where they're going by commercial flight first. House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon did that last month, making the first leg of a trip to Afghanistan by commercial jet and then flying the rest of the way aboard a military aircraft.

Normally, McKeon would have traveled aboard a military aircraft from Washington to the war region.

A House delegation also flew commercially to Rome for the investiture of Pope Francis, an expense paid by taxpayers but one that did not affect the Defense Department budget.

Senators, meanwhile, have not been as quick to adjust their travel plans. South Carolina GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham plans a visit to Israel, Turkey, and Jordan during the break. He will be accompanied by New York Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand.

Tennessee Republican Sen. Bob Corker also plans what he calls “an economic mission” to Japan, China, and South Korea, although he confirmed he will fly commercially.

The Times reported that at least one planned Senate recess trip has been canceled because, as one aide put it, no one "wants to be outed" as going on a codel during a time of fiscal austerity.

When asked what the trip destination was, Pennsylvania GOP Sen. Patrick Toomey said some senators had planned to visit Bali with their wives. Then he laughed and said, "I'm just kidding."

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