Congress

The Pampered World of Congressional Air Travel


Members of Congress leave the Capitol on April 26 following a vote on the FAA funding sequestration

Photograph by Bill Clark/Getty Images

Members of Congress leave the Capitol on April 26 following a vote on the FAA funding sequestration

On Friday, the Internet erupted in fury over Congress’s vote to reverse the automatic cuts that were causing air-traffic controllers to be furloughed, delaying hundreds of flights—see, for instance, Josh Barro at Bloomberg View or Brian Beutler at Talking Points Memo. Critics pointed out that it was appalling for Congress to undo the sequester cuts that inconvenienced travelers while leaving in place the cuts to such programs as Head Start and Meals on Wheels that affect tens of thousands of poor people, many of them children and seniors. The obvious conclusion is that Congress cares much more about the problems of rich air travelers (who are regular voters) and will act quickly to solve them.

This criticism is entirely valid and correct—but it doesn’t go nearly far enough. The group that Congress is helping the most by lifting the FAA sequester isn’t business flyers. No, lawmakers are helping themselves. There is no more pampered class of air traveler than members of Congress.

At Washington’s Reagan National Airport, they have their own special parking spaces—right up close to the terminal—that they don’t even have to pay for. As Bloomberg Television’s Hans Nichols reports, this perk costs the Metropolitan Washington Airport Authority $738,760 in foregone revenue. (The best part of this clip, though, is seeing Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky haul ass to get away from Bloomberg’s cameraman.)

Being a member of Congress also means never having to rush to catch a flight. The airlines allow lawmakers the special privilege of simultaneously booking themselves on multiple flights, so that if they are late or their flight is canceled, they’re guaranteed a spot on the next one. A few years ago, a prominent senator paused in the middle of a conversation with me to bark at an aide, “Book me on the 6, 7, and 8 p.m. shuttles!”

To members of our fly-in-Tuesday-fly-home-Thursday Congress, these perks are a big deal. Most fly a lot, and many fly first class. They don’t just jet home to their districts. Sometimes, they’re jetting around the world at taxpayer expense ($23,646, to be specific), as Democratic Representative Sheila Jackson-Lee of Texas did in February. Or to a golf junket in Scotland with their lobbyist pal. Or for a nude, drunken dip in the Sea of Galilee.

The point is, Congress’s decision to lift the sequester was even more self-serving than you probably imagined. After casting their votes on Friday, most members raced to the airport and went home.

Green_190
Green is senior national correspondent for Bloomberg Businessweek in Washington. Follow him on Twitter @JoshuaGreen.

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