U.S. House members are barred from enjoying the once favored perk of traveling on expensive military aircraft because of sequestration cuts. But not on Thursday when there was a funeral to attend on the taxpayers’ dime.
At an estimated flight-time cost of $10,000 an hour, a bipartisan delegation of 30 House members, including leadership, descended on the Pinellas County funeral of longtime Florida congressman C.W. “Bill” Young.
The exception was more than House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, afforded members attending Pope Francis’s first ever mass earlier this year.
In an effort to determine the total cost to taxpayers, Florida Watchdog contacted both the Department of Defense and the Air Force but was given no substantive response as of Friday afternoon.
“I am not able to discuss congressional delegation movements. Their travel is up to their staffers to discuss,” said a Pentagon official.
Florida Watchdog contacted Boehner’s office for comment, but did not receive a response.
Boehner’s spokesman did, however, tell the Washington Post, “Given Rep. Young’s long and distinguished service to his congressional district, and especially to the men and women of our Armed Forces, the rule against military aircraft is waived for this funeral.”
The rule also was waived for two other funerals earlier this year.
Florida Watchdog contacted the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office to inquire about security costs for the representatives but was told the department does not have that information.
Former U.S. Rep. Lee Hamilton, D-Ind, who after spending 34 years in Congress, described military air travel this way:
To begin with, there’s no need to worry about schedules or wait at the ticket counter or fret about missing a flight because you’re stuck in a security line. If you’re flying courtesy of the government, the Air Force will have a plane waiting whenever you’re ready to go.
Someone picks you up at your house or on Capitol Hill and takes you to Andrews Air Force Base, where they seat you in a very nicely appointed VIP lounge with plenty of refreshments.
At some point along the way, they also take charge of your bags; the next time you’ll see them will be in your hotel room. You carry on board only those papers and belongings you need in flight.
In the air, members of Congress fly with more room and amenities than first class on commercial flights, with plenty of legroom, excellent meals and attentive service.
Hamilton is director of the Center on Congress at Indiana University.
The House members who attended Young’s funeral flew roundtrip from Andrews Air Force Base to Clearwater-St. Petersburg International Airport. The delegation returned to the airbase later Thursday evening.
Nearby Tampa International Airport landed dozens of direct flights to Washington D.C. the same day.
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Published with permission from Watchdog.org