Congress Travels Free on Taxpayers' Dime

Members of Congress take a junket to Europe to "build relationships."

ByABC News
February 16, 2009, 4:29 PM

WASHINGTON, Feb. 16, 2009— -- There's been no shortage of outrage in Congress about CEOs and their corporate jets, but members of Congress know something about luxury travel, too.

Congressmen regularly travel the world on the taxpayers' dime -- as members of so-called congressional delegations, or "CoDels."

A bipartisan group of members of Congress and their spouses went on an official trip to Europe this week, traveling through Brussels, Vienna, Paris -- where they spent Valentine's Day -- and the Bavarian Alps.

As is the case with almost all of these congressional trips, they were able to avoid annoying airport lines, frustrating flight delays and baggage nightmares, because they were flown at no cost to them by the Air Force. Commercial airfare for a comparable trip across Europe would cost roughly $10,000 per person. A good deal on a private charter flight for a trip like this would be at least $200,000.

ABC News caught up with Rep. John Tanner, D-Tenn., who is leading the delegation, shortly before he left for the trip. Tanner strongly defended the group's travels, saying he has important meetings at each stop and the trip is part of a greater effort to improve relations with Europe.

"I will give you our schedule. There is not a lot of downtime in our schedule, I can tell you that," he said. "We are going to Brussels. That is where NATO headquarters are. We are going to Vienna because I as NATO president am speaking to the OSCE, another organization we are trying to build a relationship with to help us in the war on terrorism."

Tanner led another delegation on a similar trip in November for NATO and other meetings in Rome and Florence, Italy, and Valencia, Spain.

"We need to build relationships," Tanner told ABC News. "I would rather personally go home and see my grandchildren. It takes a lot of time and effort to go over there during every break."

Tanner also defended the practice of bringing spouses on the congressional trip.

"NATO parliamentarians in Europe have wives. Our wives go to embassies in these countries we visit..." he said. "Whether it is going to schools, orphanages, libraries, whatever that is what our wives do ... there is no extra expense."