It's long been apparent that Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has a "plane thing." After the Democrats took control of Congress in 2006, Ms. Pelosi had a little dust-up with the Bush Administration over her request to use the military version of a Boeing 757 for official travel.
Earlier this year, the speaker had another hissy fit because her new, preferred mode of transportation (a Gulfstream G5) wasn't available. Judicial Watch obtained copies of memos from senior Congressional staffers, demanding answers from the Air Force (which handles most VIP airflift missions for DoD), and suggesting there might be hell to pay because a requested aircraft type was already booked.
"It is my understanding there are no G5s available for the House during the Memorial Day recess. This is totally unacceptable...The speaker will want to know where the planes are..." wrote Kay King, Director of the House Office of Interparliamentary Affairs. In a separate email, when told a certain type of aircraft would not be available, King writes, "This is not good news, and we will have some very disappointed folks, as well as a very upset [s]peaker."
Supporters of Ms. Pelosi note that her predecessor, Illinois Republican Dennis Hastert, also traveled on a private jet. But Mr. Hastert didn't began using military aircraft for routine travel until after 9-11, and there is no record of him constantly badgering the Air Force for use of executive jets. Records provided to Judicial Watch indicate that Ms. Pelosi's office typically "booked" a G5 every weekend, but often cancelled at the last moment. There is no indication of how much money was wasted on prepping aircraft that were never used.
Such revelations became a p.r. nightmare for the speaker, but Ms Pelosi and her fellow Congressmen don't care. Earlier this week, they added another $250 million to a defense appropriations bill to buy two additional G5s and two more Boeing 737 business jets. The Pentagon had only requested a single G550 and one 737, in addition to the purchase of two Boeing business jets that are currently being leased.
In other words, Congress wants four more top-of-line executive aircraft and by all indications, the lawmakers will get them. We haven't heard a peep out of GOP lawmakers (who also enjoy access to the aircraft), or President Obama. This from the same Republicans who complain about runaway government spending--and a Commander-in-Chief who threatened to veto the defense bill if it contained more money for the F-22 Raptor. As always, hypocrisy is one of the few genuinely bipartisan issues in Washington.
The additional Gulfstreams and Boeing 737s will join a VIP airlift fleet that is already more than sufficient. As we noted back in March, the USAF already operates 80 executive aircraft, used to transport administration officials, senior military leaders and, of course, members of the U.S. Congress.
Analyzing government travel records, The Wall Street Journal found that overseas travel costs for Congressmen and Senators have skyrocketed over the last decade. Between 1995 and 2008, expenditures in that area grew ten-fold, to more than $13 million a year. But even those figures are misleading because they don't include the cost of operating military aircraft, which are often used on such junkets. Under current policy, Congressional spouses are allowed to accompany their husbands or wives on overseas trips.
In case you're wondering, it costs roughly $3,000 an hour to operate a G550 and $5,700 an hour to fly a C-40, the military version of the Boeing business jet. And it comes as no surprise that much of DoD's VIP fleet is hauling lawmakers around the world during the August recess. According to the Journal, Senator Richard Shelby of Alabama is leading a delegation to Europe for three weeks (spouses included), and House Minority Leader John Boehner of Ohio is on a 'round-the-world trip with other Congressmen.
As Speaker of the House, Ms. Pelosi--along with other Congressional leaders--could put a stop to this chicanery. But why take a stand for fiscal responsibility when you can see the world on the taxpayer's dime, and travel in style, on a military VIP jet.