WASHINGTON, D.C. - We’ve been tracking the use and abuse of first- and business-class travel by federal workers. Our reporting turned up some pretty pricey tickets purchased by agencies such as NASA and some very sloppy recordkeeping across the government. But now, the finger is being pointed at another group of government workers – members of Congress. And it’s lawmakers themselves who are pointing the finger.
A bipartisan group of representatives introduced a bill this week that would stop members of Congress from using tax dollars to travel in first class.
“Members of Congress shouldn’t be flying first class on the taxpayers’ dime,” Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., wrote in a statement to Scripps. Gosar is the lead author of the bipartisan bill, which is co-sponsored by Raul Ruiz, D-Calif., Walter Jones, R-N.C. and John Barrow, D-Ga.
Rep. Jones signed on after learning members of America’s armed forces fly coach while they serve the country.
“If the military can’t take a first-class trip, why should members of Congress?” he asked. “We need to be setting the example and we do a poor job of setting the example.”
Upgrades to first class in Congress are not paid for from campaign donations. Each member is given an allowance, called the Members’ Representational Allowance, from which the member can pay for expenses necessary to carry out official duties. This allowance is used to pay for many things, including staff salaries, office supplies and travel.
While employees of federal agencies already must fly in coach except for in rare circumstances, no such limitation exists for members of Congress. The bill introduced this week would extend similar limitations to Capitol Hill while also making allowances for exceptions, such as a medical need to upgrade or if no other seats are available.
The bill doesn’t actually prohibit anyone from flying first class. Rep. Gosar said in an email, “If members of Congress wish to fly first class, they should pay for the upgrade themselves. Members of Congress are not a privileged class and are not above the people. They should not be using the taxpayers’ hard-earned money to purchase luxury airfare.” The congressman declined to say how many members of Congress regularly fly business or first class.
Rep. Jones said at a time when members of Congress face approval ratings hovering near 10 percent, limiting upgrades to first class is the least members can do to help send a better message to American taxpayers.
With two Democrats and two Republicans sponsoring the bill together, could this be the start of a bipartisan trend?
Jones said taxpayers deserve better and pledged to push not only this issue, but personally vowed to follow up on other issues related to upgraded travel in the executive branch.
“I am sick and tired of this,” he said.