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Our view: Lame-duck travel is tacky at best

In 1973, U.S. Rep. Donald Brotzman, R-Colo., sponsored HR 2257, which would have mandated that "no part of any appropriation or local currency owned by the United States be available for any expenses ... in connection with travel outside the 50 states" for members of Congress that had been defeated or resigned.

That was 45 years ago. HR 2257 died a quiet death.

We learned of Brotzman's effort from just a few minutes of research after reading an article in Sunday's USA Today, noting how exiting federal lawmakers are participating in expensive trips paid by U.S. taxpayers.

According to USA Today research, at least 17 retiring members of Congress have gone on expensive trips after announcing they were not going to seek re-election. All of those trips were paid for with taxpayer dollars, totaling approximately $190,000. No member of Congress representing the Dakotas or Minnesota was listed in the USA Today report.

The trips are not illegal and all were approved by various congressional chairmen. But, according to Craig Holman—a government affairs lobbyist quoted in the story—"the problem is many of these trips are really much more like paid vacations than fact-finding trips." And, in some cases, there were no announcements regarding the trips, nor was information made public.

Sometimes, the political good is obvious—such as recent trips made by retiring lawmakers to Canada or Mexico to discuss the North American Free Trade Agreement. In other cases, the political good isn't easily discernible, and that's the problem.

One of the 17 examples listed by USA Today: Rep. Ted Poe, R-Texas, announced his retirement in November and spent $26,000 combined traveling to Moldova in March and Poland in May.

In the USA Today story, Meredith McGehee of the Campaign Legal Center said some lame-duck lawmakers may be traveling for fun or, perhaps, looking ahead to their next job. At least two of the Congress members who recently traveled noted that their job doesn't necessarily end with their resignation, and that there is still work to do.

That very well may be the case. But the general quiet that accompanies some of these trips only adds to the appearance of impropriety. Again, it's not illegal. But some of these cases seem improper at worst, unnecessary or simply tacky at best.

This isn't a new problem, as evidenced by the efforts by Rep. Brotzman and HR 2257 all those years ago. Brotzman's idea wasn't mentioned in the USA Today story, but it was a sound idea in 1973 and remains so today.

As the controversy persists, Congress should move to ban these kinds of trips by lame-duck members. Or, at the very least, efforts should be made to improve the public view of such travel, before, during and after the actual trip.