Congress Should Travel More Not Less: Applauding the Aspen Institute

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I like the folks at US News & World Report but they just sent me a disconcerting political news swipe at sponsored Congressional travel and the Aspen Institute.
The opener reads:

While many Americans watched their wallets, several dozen members of Congress used the Memorial Day recess to travel overseas to places including Rome, Venice, and Athens without digging into their own. At least 64 lawmakers traveled abroad that week, many with spouses in tow, a U.S. News review found. The largest contingent was 17 members of Congress ensconced for five nights in the $480-a-night Rome Cavalieri Hilton, courtesy of the Aspen Institute, a nonprofit group famous for transporting lawmakers to chic destinations, ranging from the Grand Cayman Islands to Istanbul, for in-depth looks at foreign policy and other issues.
The Aspen Institute brought the lawmakers to Rome for a seminar called “Political Islam: Challenges for U.S. Policy.” But it wasn’t just the members of Congress who benefited, at no cost to themselves, since all but one brought along a spouse or child. Trips for two soared as high as $20,120, and the bottom line for members and their companions rose to nearly $263,000, according to disclosure reports.
Nine Democrats were on the Rome trip: Sens. Evan Bayh of Indiana and Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico and Reps. Earl Blumenauer of Oregon, Rush Holt of New Jersey, Nita Lowey of New York, and Howard Berman, Susan Davis, George Miller, and Henry Waxman, all of California. Eight Republicans also were on board: Sens. Robert Bennett of Utah, Richard Lugar of Indiana, and George Voinovich of Ohio and Reps. Charles Boustany of Louisiana, Geoffrey Davis of Kentucky, John Duncan of Tennessee, Fred Upton of Michigan, and Greg Walden of Oregon.
All but Bingaman brought one relative, most often a spouse; Blumenauer took a son. Three members, Lowey, Miller and Upton, extended the trip to Italy at their own expense. Aspen, which has been holding such conferences for lawmakers since 1983 and now puts on about five a year, marks a milestone in August with its 100th conference in Paris, according to Dick Clark, who directs the Aspen Congressional Program. Those meetings will probe the cultural and ideological aspects of Islam.

Let me play the contrarian here and defend the Members of Congress and the Aspen Institute. We need as many Members out seeing the world as possible — and if they are at a forum debating political Islam. . .well, fantastic!
Over spring recess, some four dozen Members of Congress went to Israel as guests of AIPAC, and that is their right. But I’d like to see more Members going anywhere in Europe to discuss the latest in Brussels’ diplomatic moves with Iran and concerns region wide about Iraq, Palestine/Israel, Syria, the refugee crisis, etc.
Rather than criticizing the amounts involved — and frankly, I think that the Aspen Conference still sounds low frills compared to some I have seen — US News & World Report should be asking why there isn’t more of this? And who has not been on such a trip? Why haven’t we seen more of this being done in Asia and with China — or with Cuba — or trips to Syria and Jordan to review the incredible, growing burden of Iraq refugees in those countries?
So, from TWN — applause, applause, applause for Dick Clark at Aspen and for Walter Isaacson and the Members who went on the trips described in the article.
In no way should Americans think that it is in their interest for Senators and House members to remain at home and ignorant of the world.
— Steve Clemons

Comments

31 comments on “Congress Should Travel More Not Less: Applauding the Aspen Institute

  1. nicky says:

    Jordan sneaker
    Air jordan sneaker

    Reply

  2. PissedOffAmerican says:

    Actually, one cannot draw judgements about the Democrat’s vote on the war authorization. When a defeat is imminent and unquestionable, a dissenting vote can easily be little more than a postured position, unattached to true conviction.
    Yes, many voted against it. But since, Bush has recieved almost everything he has asked for, even when the majority shifted to the left. For many of the democrats, their nay votes are dichotomous to the wink and a nod they have given Bush almost across the board. “Opposition” is a word that cannot with straight face be applied to the Democrats.

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  3. David says:

    I agree about Congress as an enabler, but the 90% is off the mark. The majority of Democrats in the House voted against the war authorization. It is the Senate Democrats who did not pay attention to the fact that then-chairman of the Senate intelligence committee, Bob Graham, voted against the war authorization. Lincoln Chaffee, now an independent, has done an excellent job of describing the failure of fellow senators to do their job.
    But the President holds the trump cards in modern day America regarding foreign policy and war making. He also holds the propaganda pulpit. And the executive is by far the most important franchise regarding foreign policy, so two things: first choose a Democratic franchise to replace Bushco in the White House; and second vote out every enabler possible, so long as it does not mean putting in a worse represenative, which is more likely the case at the moment if a Republican replaces a Democrat.
    For me it is a matter of taking a sober look at the actual centers of power and trying to figure out what can best be done to call their machinations to a halt. Bushco is the malignant tumor. Congress was the organ to which the malignancy metasticized. So remove the malignancy and deal with the metasticization in the smartest manner possible.

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  4. Kathleen says:

    JohnH..Carroll thanks for the links…came across Zoe Baird’s name.. remember her? My how Repugs have changed their tune on hiring undocumented workers….meanwhile, back at the spin machines, the MSM is fast on the track of Cindy McCain’s alledged recipe theft when they should be checking her house help’s documents.
    Somehow reading the phrase Aspen Institute for ‘Humanistic Studies’ makes me think of Lewis Black’s joke… he mentions a bumper sticker that says,”Thank God for humanists”.

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  5. Carroll says:

    Posted by David Jul 18, 9:55PM
    >>>>>>>>>>>
    I think you missed Pauline’s point.
    And this…”But the largest target should not be congress at all – it is Bushco that will have squandered, and I do mean squandered, trillions in Iraq”
    Congress enabled it…aided Bush in every way.
    Congress should definitely be a target. The main target. IF they had done their job at any point we wouldn’t be where we are. IF they had done their their job Bush would have been gone long ago. IF they had done their job we would be out of Iraq. IF they had done their job we wouldn’t have finanical markets melting down.
    Congress doesn’t do the job and perform the duties required of them by the constitution. Period.
    90% of congress needs to be impeached along with Bush.

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  6. David says:

    Buster here. I do not know the specifics of this trip. I was speaking about the idea of automatically attacking congressional travel to foreign countries as a waste of taxpayer money. And I think we already suffer from too much of “they should come here, not we there.” We’ve always suffered from too chauvinistic a view of the rest of the world. And you do not send the representatives of your government to second-rate accomodations, although I do agree that you do not send them to luxury hotels. I do not know what the nightly rate should be in this circumstance, but I remember what it was like to travel as a faculty representative of my college on a stringent travel allocation. I did it anyway, but teachers are essentially second-class citizens, so I wasn’t upset. But I was not a representative of the United States government traveling to a foreign country.
    Go after the abusers for real abuse of taxpayer money, which means going after members of congress tied to military contracts and Republicans traveling to the Mariannas or St. Andrews, if they regain control of congress. But the largest target should not be congress at all – it is Bushco that will have squandered, and I do mean squandered, trillions in Iraq before that idiocy has ended, not to mention lives ended or for all practical purposes destroyed, numbering at least in the tens of thousands of American service people, and by multiples of one hundred for Iraqis killed, maimed, and/or displaced, either internally or as refugees, especially to Jordan.
    My point, pauline, is make sure your rage is aimed at the most important targets, not minor issues, if indeed there was any unnecessary luxury granted to this delegation.
    I think both Zathras and Dan Kervick make excellent points.
    And newly elected members of the House of Representatives, unless they bring considerable personal wealth to Washington, do not wallow in luxury. That fact has been documented on more than one occasion, including on mainstream television.

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  7. pauline says:

    Zathras:
    I somewhere have a signed copy of “Government Racket” by Martin Gross and saw him at a NY bookstore way back in the early ’90s. I can’t lay my fingers on it right at this moment, but I’ll quote from it when I discover it’s location.
    Exactly what I mentioned about senatorial office furniture and top house office furniture came directly from his book and talk. And that was a just tiny portion of the waste he revealed! I think like many at the bookstore q&a that night, I was stunned by all the detail of his wasteful fed government findings.
    I’ve always had a hankering for Ralph Nader, Ron Paul, Dennis Kucinich for telling us in no uncertain terms, the vast government corruption and waste. Years ago Martin Gross showed me more dirty realities of big government.
    Heck, I even listened with interest to what Mitt Romney was saying about government waste earlier this year. He could have maybe come with creative solutions for stimulating the US economy while also cutting waste. That’s a very desirable national goal. But we’ll never know now. imo, he should have the Repub candidate, not the Az rapper, “Cranky Old B*sterd”.
    Here’s a book description of “Government Racket” for those interested.
    “In 1992, Martin L. Gross shocked the nation when he blew the whistle on catastrophic government profligacy in his New York Times bestseller THE GOVERNMENT RACKET: Washington Waste from A to Z. Now he’s returned to the scene of the crime and found that things have gotten even worse. He details dozens of new ways Washington has thrown away our hard-earned tax dollars. He details classic pork projects, such as highway projects and ever-delayed, over-budget mass transit systems. He examines politically self-serving radio ads, military junkets and political conventions. He tries to figure out how many billions the government squanders on telephone service. And he shows how we run through $4 billion a year on 127 different youth programs. He revisits the waste and pork he originally exposed-and discovers that little has been done to eradicate it. So he lays out his own blueprint for the twenty-first century, what needs to be done and quickly to create a Washington free of waste and corruption.”
    If you think I’m off-topic, which is a common and regular occurence on TWN, then complain to Steve.
    imo, many people on TWN seem enjoy engaging in partially-related matters when the stated topic isn’t going anywhere.

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  8. Zathras says:

    Just for the record, the assertion made by pauline upthread about how newly elected Congressmen and Senators decorate their offices is not only untrue, it is the precise opposite of true, known to be so by literally thousands of people from all over the country who visit Congressional offices in Washington every year.
    The assertion was also off-topic, so we shouldn’t make too much of it. But honestly….look, anyone interested in pursuing this subject further can visit the fifth floor of the Cannon Building or the sixth floor of Longworth, where newly elected Congressmen tend to hang out, and let us know what they see.

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  9. dirk says:

    Yes, I support the notion that all US residents, including members of congress, should travel more. However, even with the low dollar, I think $480 hotel rooms are ridiculous (even in London) — and I say that, having spent the last 2 years living in Ireland, and traveling all over europe/asia for the past 10 years.
    The more you spend on a hotel and meals, the more you isolate yourself from the street and the real world. I’d give them a budget of $200 a day (eyes rolling) for everything — let them buy a bread roll and some cheese at the local market and make their own sandwiches. — Who knows, they might even learn something about the real world!

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  10. pauline says:

    It has been this way in DC for decades, but each time a new senator or representative is elected, they completely remodel their DC offices with the most costly and extravagent brand new furniture, credenzas, carpets, wall hangings, etc — all at taxpayers’ expense.
    There are warehouses around DC that are stuffed with expensive, fully-functional abandoned office furniture and accesories.
    And we trust these people with our tax dollars?!

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  11. pauline says:

    Dan,
    If you think Barry O or McCrankster need to send their people to Sweden to understand how their healthcare system works, then maybe we need to start over with the word “economical”.
    Maybe congress just need lessons on how to use the internet other than for dirty pictures.
    If your windows are dirty, do you run out and travel all around town to ask about how to deal with dirty windows?
    If in your travels you see new windows, do you buy new windows and forget about cleaning what you have?
    Which method would yield the best solution for your money?

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  12. Dan Kervick says:

    I agree that US legislators, and ordinary Americans for that matter, need to know a lot more about the rest of the world. And I am perfectly willing to fund, through my taxes, excursions abroad that are actually aimed at improving the foreign affairs knowledge of US legislators.
    But there is clearly a difference between a truly educational working trip abroad, on the one hand, and a mere vacation or pleasure excursion on the other. What I would want to know is whether the official business agenda of the trip is rich and contentful, something that actually required a trip abroad, and something that actually imparts a significant amount of knowledge of the world outside America. Or is the business portion of the trip just window dressing for a vacation? A hard-working trip designed so that American legislators can learn more about how Swedes administer their health care system, or meet with a large variety of Frenchmen in a variety of circumstances, to find out what they think about French-US relations, would be important and useful. A ski vacation in the Alps, or a stay at some Mediterranean spa, that happens to be accompanied by a program of talks at their hotel, talks they could just as well have heard in the US, is not nearly so useful. If they want to go on such a vacation, they can do it on their own dimes.
    I also don’t think we should foot the bill for junkets organized by foreign governments, featuring perhaps lots of golf and lavish banquets at a desert hotel/palace, with a program of content organized only by that government, which is aimed principally at propagandizing and procuring influence from their guests. That’s not the kind of fact-finding and mental improvement I want my legislators participating in. It is nothing but the equivalent of a Carribbean resort vacation for doctors, organized by pharmaceutical companies for the purpose of hawking their wares. I would want my legislator pro-actively seeking knowledge and the truth abroad, not sitting passively for a sales pitch from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
    And if a foreign trip is worthwhile, then we citizens should pay. I don’t want elite institutes, lobbying groups, corporations, foundations or anybody else picking up a congressman’s tabs. There is far too much risk here of influence peddling, and of human nature taking over in the form of spontaneous gratitude from legislators toward their benefactors and their benefactors’ interests.

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  13. pauline says:

    David wrote:
    “But condemning it out of the gate because it cost about as much as the average new home for one family and/or because it wasn’t held in the US, with the other folk travelling here instead of our folk there, seems misguided to me.”
    Ok, buster, start listing the specific benefits of spending that money for junket travels to Europe instead of here. Let me know when you get past number one (taking a free vacation) on your list.
    You miss the entire point. It ain’t economical in any sense of the word to send people and their companions to a free European plush hotel and spa — Europeans should be invited here to add to our economy, not theirs.

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  14. Zathras says:

    I wonder if the value of Congressional travel is as great as it used to be.
    The structure of Congress has changed in recent years; members of the authorizing committees pull much less weight than they used to as the House and even the Senate have shambled toward a power structure dominated by the respective party leaderships and the appropriations committees. The idea that a member of either house could join the relevant committee and use foreign trips as a means of educating himself on American foreign policy and world affairs is still valid, but the way Congress functions now gives such a member less opportunity to use the expertise thus gained in legislating, or even oversight.
    It is also true, as it always has been, that some Congressional trips abroad are junkets that don’t leave their participants with much more than a hangover and a tan. There’s no way to mandate that legislators use travel to learn things they need to know. That’s just a fact of life, and as such it doesn’t bother me that much. I’m more concerned about the opportunities available in today’s Congress for members who do make the effort to make any use of what they’ve learned.

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  15. David says:

    The cost of the trip is pretty small. My only concern is the nature and consequences of the trip. $263,000 is damned cheap if several dozen members of congress gained insights and a larger world view than they possessed before the trip, and provided same for the people with whom they met. If it was just a Roman holiday, that is a different story. But condemning it out of the gate because it cost about as much as the average new home for one family and/or because it wasn’t held in the US, with the other folk travelling here instead of our folk there, seems misguided to me.

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  16. Mr.Murder says:

    Regime change, rumors that helped background the Niger forgeries, pipeline and energy ventures to south central Asia, market deregulation for Enron, efforts to coup Chavez and have recall elections there like they did in Cali.
    Yet Joe Wilson was on a junket!
    The New World Order. Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss.

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  17. Carroll says:

    Ah. the “turning leaves of the Aspen…of Scooter Libby and Judy Miller.
    Anyway I found several things of interest at their site:
    A book review:
    David Rothkopf Reveals the Inner Workings of the Global Power Elite
    David Rothkopf
    In the April installment of the Aspen Roundtable Series, David Rothkopf, an acclaimed author, former Clinton Administration international trade official and current visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, examined the world of the most powerful in a conversation with Institute President and CEO Walter Isaacson about his latest book, Superclass: The Global Power Elite and the World They Are Making (Farrar, Straus and Giroux).
    Opening with a look back at The Power Elite — C. Wright Mills’ 1956 study of the structure of power in the United States — Rothkopf questioned, “If C. Wright Mills were writing the book today, who would he be writing about?” By Rothkopf’s determination, it would be “a group that is predominantly from the private sector,” “a group where the influence of military elites has declined,” and “an elite…that is increasingly trans-Pacific.” In essence, said Rothkopf, “people who have influence over the lives of millions on a regular basis across borders.”
    Rothkopf cautioned against imbuing this superclass, as he defines it, with a monolithic nature or intent. However, “there are meetings where they get together and views are formed,” he said, such as the World Economic Forum in Davos and the Bilderberg conference. While the superclass may not act as one, these types of events become an “idea force multiplier,” said Rothkopf, where the powerful can influence each other’s thinking.
    Alongside this rise of today’s global superclass, “inequality has grown everywhere,” he noted. Except for China and India, “in every country in the world…the middle classes have shrunk,” he said. And while “most of the people in these [superclass] groups give one percent of their income to charity,” Rothkopf added, “it’s always going to be much smaller than what’s needed, and it’s always going to be in their self-interest.”
    Which you can contrast with Aspen’s BOD composed entirely of those very elites:…oh, the irony of it all.
    http://www.aspeninstitute.org/site/c.huLWJeMRKpH/b.612063/k.AE55/Board_of_Trustees.htm
    Here is their Annual Report..also very weird. I don’t think I have ever seen an annual report with less details on how they actually spent their money.
    http://www.aspeninstitute.org/atf/cf/%7BDEB6F227-659B-4EC8-8F84-8DF23CA704F5%7D/annualreport2006.pdf
    Just another group of elites folks, like a real estate developer who sits on the town planning board. If you’ve seen one of them you’ve seen them all.

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  18. arthurdecco says:

    Junkets like this are just one more of the countless corruptions of your government by private interests – another bullet wound blood stain on the corpse of what you all laughably describe as ‘Democracy’.
    You can dress this pig up in all the finery you want, Mr. Clemons. It will still be pork. And it will still be wrong, wrong, wrong.
    Should American politicians attend overseas conferences? Of course they should! Far too many are far too ignorant of even their own back yards! But the costs incurred should be born by your government and not by the individuals behind names like the Aspen Institute or AIPAC.
    There have been several suggestions made here that would do much to lessen the harm produced by the present corrupted arrangement between your elected representatives and those they actually report to. What makes you so averse to adopting these sensible suggestions as policy or even law, Mr. Clemons? Why the constant dancing on the head of a pin? I would have thought that could get exhausting.
    Such trips and conferences, funded by special interest groups, should be made illegal. With severe penalties for those who choose to participate. The amount of money involved is infinitesimal in the grand scheme of the American budget. I’m sure your government representatives already steal more money in a year than is spent on the expense of informing them. (And, puh leaze don’t get all faux-outraged at the suggestion that American politicians are corrupt. Just think back over the very public corruptions stories we’ve been privy to over the past few years, if you doubt me.)
    I’m also appalled that you can’t seem to acknowledge these junkets have been designed specifically to alter the opinions of their political participant invitees. In that way, they should honestly be compared to the act of brazenly stuffing your Congressmen’s and women’s pockets with envelopes of used, large denomination bills. To my way of thinking, there’s no difference at all. None, nada, nyet.

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  19. pauline says:

    Steve,
    Thank you for the correction, my speed-reading error. But my comments on political junkets stand firm.
    And what about the Aspen Institute? Did Big Oil and international financiers help fund it? I’m not sure I completely understand what these elites here are all about. Big money hiding behind a not-for-profit doesn’t say much about it’s real purposes. It may not be harmful here, but I’m suspicious.
    Here’s one from my mother in central Florida. She knows my liking for sniffing out political corruption and forwards news links to me now that she knows how to go online. (Whew!) She gets an earful from me often and knows my likes and dislikes sometimes better than me!
    http://blogs.tampabay.com/buzz/2008/07/junkets-or-not.html

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  20. JohnH says:

    Here’s the link to the membership of the Aspen Strategy Group–experienced individuals all, in the same sense that Dick Cheney is experienced.
    http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=Aspen_Institute

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  21. JohnH says:

    The Aspen Institute sponsors the Aspen Strategy Group group, which consists of non-administration movers and shakers in foreign policy (i.e. the part of the foreign policy mafia not in the executive branch). Though this group is allegedly “dedicated to informed dialogue and inquiry on issues of global concern,” nothing suggests any debate or disagreement about America’s role in the world, its relationship to Israel, or its obsessive need to dominate world energy sources and distribution routes. As such, I consider it the epicenter of the group-thinking Washington mindset that is responsible for the disaster that is American foreign policy today.
    It’s time for the cold war mongers and resource war mongers to be replaced with a new generation dedicated to challenging the unquestioned assumptions of the foreign policy mafia. Then they will truly have informed dialogue and inquiry.

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  22. Carroll says:

    Political and ideological Islam?
    We can guess where that topic and discussion will go.
    When is Aspen going to hold one on the political and ideological Isr’merica that made political and ideological Islam a hot topic?
    It would be more informative for them to read some history books maybe?
    Get back to us on the program contents.

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  23. Carroll says:

    Totally disagree with Steve on this for several reasons.
    First this just once again points out how politicans think they are Hollywood stars who deserve free jewelry from Harry Winston and are privilaged royalty elected to run the universe, not the USA. Travel abroad in style instead of spending their “recess’ in their own districts listening to their own citizens? Oh..plezzze.
    Second give me an example, any example, of where these vacation junkets have actually resulted in politicans learning anything and that resulted in anything positive for US citizens.
    You don’t see them traveling to any hot spots in Africa do you? No golf courses, five star hotels and shopping for the wives.
    Congress is living on denial cloud number nine and when the elitism that this represents goes down it’s going down hard and I for one will be cheering.
    BWTTGASO

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  24. Linda says:

    Steve,
    You didn’t answer about how Aspen is funded, and it does matter even if it is non-profit. I do think members of Congress should get out and see the world but at taxpayer expense or their own expense only.
    Many of us can’t afford to go abroad right now because the dollar is so weak. And even when we do, we stay in one-star and two-star hotels that are perfectly adequate and comfortable. And we get out of them to go eat the local fare and meet the local people. Five-star hotels are pretty much the same anywhere and encourage staying inside them for pools, spas, shops, and banquets like the ones at the recent G-8 meeting. They remind me a little like being 0n the Axiom from WALL-E. And it’s a bit obscene when so many people here and around the world are homeless and starving.

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  25. Greg P says:

    I got a chuckle out of Newsweek’s indignity at $480 a night hotel rooms — that actually struck me as low for a major European city for a congressional trip. The run of the mill 3-star business traveller joint I stay at in London when I’m there to see clients — hardly luxurious — runs about $420 a night.
    But on the substance of it… many members of Congress do need to be exposed to others’ views on these issues, and many of them from less cosmopolitan parts of the US have not had that sort of exposure to non-US points of view prior to coming into office, so it is beneficial…

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  26. Steve Clemons says:

    Pauline — the Aspen Institute paid for the conference and transparently submitted the costs and amounts paid for the trip. Taxpayers did not pay for that trip to Rome.

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  27. pauline says:

    Steve,
    I very much disagree with your rationalization for taxpayers to pick up the travel costs for congress and their guest(s) to Rome.
    I agree with Linda — why not have at least the travel take place in Aspen or somewhere in the US?
    Are we US taxpayers now responsible for the hotel/travel industry in Europe?
    I just don’t buy your rationalization at all. If anything, invite foreign leaders here and in these economic times, US spin-off jobs from foreigners traveling here is much more important than satisfying the exotic travel junket desires of all the Richard Lugars and Henry Waxmans in congress.
    Such exotic junkets are not economical and are therefore not good.
    My good friend as a pharmaceutical rep calls on inner-city doctors and hospitals and she has often shared of the many “training seminars” she’s attended in Honolulu, Cancun, Puerto Rico, Jamaica, etc to learn about the company’s newest drugs. She’s also shared that not one plush training seminar has really increased sales to the inner-city hospital pharmacies and doctors. And amazingly the pharmaceutical firms don’t seem to care as the plush training is scheduled well into 2009.
    I am not at all jealous of her occupational jet-setting ways, but I’m curious why pharmaceutical firms don’t produce graphical and informative dvds to send out to reps and save on the big travel expenses. Or better yet, have video info available online for qualified reps?
    The pharmaceutical firms don’t appear to watch their spending on training seminars just like congress doesn’t watch their travel junkets.
    Stockholders might care about a pharmaceutical corporate’s costs of doing business, but US taxpayers should demand and deserve more financially responsible travel budgets.
    Not on my dime, thank you!!

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  28. Kathleen says:

    Fiddling around Rome while our Constitution burns…nice….. were there other particpants from other countries or, as Linda suggests, could the conference just as well have been held in Aspen?

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  29. JohnH says:

    Agreed that elected officials need to travel more. But they do not need more travel that is little more than a moving beltway bubble. All too often these trips are little more than junkets–5 star hotels, wining and dining, maximizing US-style comforts and minimizing real contact with the world around them.
    What they really need is to engage with the local people–opposition and grassroots leaders. Help them understand what is really going on and how American policies affect ordinary people outside the political and economic elites. Getting information that resonates is almost impossible in sterile conference center settings–they need to get into the street and talk to people.
    Travel is the easy part: doing it in a way that gets these parochial, beltway-driven Congressmen to learn something is the real challenge.

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  30. Steve Clemons says:

    On this one — we are on different pages Linda (I guess we have to disagree from time to time!!) But if you knew the pressures on Members to stay home, to remain ignorant, to not travel — then any travel they do I think should be commended and embraced. I don’t think that this is luxurious…and frankly, on the Middle East front — Rome matters. Italy happens to have some of the best assets inside Iran — on the diplomatic front — and it’s useful to promote that engagement. Staying at home to talk about these topics — which this particular group is smart enough to think about here in DC anyway — should not be advocated. Just my view.
    But what is also frustrating about the piece is that it also takes a swipe at US military plane travel and other journeys. Isolationism of the sort that lurks behind this story is bad politics and bad for the country.
    Most members of Congress seem to have to go do their dutiful AIPAC sponsored trip to Israel. I won’t disparage any travel — but frankly, I’m thrilled when they go anywhere else for any serious and substantive policy thinking. And if it’s in a nice hotel, all the better — that is where stuff happens. . .whether the critics want to except that or not. (and remember the $$ values in that story are inflated given the steep decline of the dollar).
    — Steve Clemons

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  31. Linda says:

    Steve,
    I coudln’t disagree more with your contarian comments as the conference could have been held in Aspen just as well because learning and talking about Islam doesn’t really seem to require being in Rome. I’d prefer that the taxpayers pick up the tab for travel that is necessary and related to their committee assignments. I also think that it should be compensated at the same level of hotel and per diem that federal civil servants have to use. Any of them can upgrade at their own expense and bring a spouse the same way.
    I don’t know how the Aspen Insitute is funded–all from charitable donations or does it get some government grants and contracts. If so, then it shouldn’t pay for any trips like this.

    Reply

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