Turns out, after Congress banned lobbyist-sponsored trips abroad in 2005, excursions on the public dime ballooned nearly 70 percent. Since Democrats took over Congress, the amount increased 50 percent in two years, costing taxpayers about $13 million last year. Now, granted, that's pennies in a congressional budget, but there are still some trips that raised The Wall Street Journal's eyebrows:
Often, lawmakers combine trips to war zones with visits to more tranquil spots. In February, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi led a delegation of Democratic lawmakers to visit U.S. troops in Afghanistan for a day. Before landing in Kabul, the eight lawmakers and their entourage of spouses and aides spent eight days in Italy, spending $57,697 on hotels and meals.
To be fair, a lot of the trips are to places like Iraq and Afghanistan, war-torn locales where our leaders probably should be sticking their heads now and again. "In mid-February, for example, six House lawmakers traveled to Kuwait, Iraq, Bahrain and Afghanistan," the Journal reports. "Each lawmaker reported spending $1,500 on hotels and meals in Kuwait, $400 in Bahrain, and $25 in Afghanistan. They reported no expenses in Iraq." Of all the places not to drop a dime! Because Italian tourist traps really need your cash more than the shawarma place just outside the Green Zone.
In other news, the staff salaries of all White House personnel have been released. As you probably knew, it's not that lucrative to work in there. The highest-paid staff members (like Rahm Emanuel, David Axelrod, and Robert Gibbs) are mostly salary-capped at $172,000, with the exception of Obama himself, who makes $400,000. Most staffers, especially the younger ones, earn within the $35K to $70K range (and they don't get Italian vacations, even if they are disguised as "trips to Afghanistan").
Still, counting for New York City taxes, absurd rents, and an overall higher cost of living, these kids probably aren't doing too bad compared to how a lot of us up here live. (Discounting those of you who work in finance and the law, of course, who live in a way public servants should never be allowed to understand). And they get to swipe in at the White House every day. We're officially jealous. We bet the coffee in the West Wing is relatively drinkable, and they get to have a puppy at work, every day.
Remind us again why we didn't run for office, or help someone run for office? Is it because no one would take us seriously? Because we can stop declaring wars on animal species, if that's what it takes.