Lawmaker Aims to Stop Congressional "Pleasure Trips" on Taxpayer Dime

Norway might be nice this time of year, London might be lovely, but you should stay put: That's the message Illinois Republican Rep. Timothy Johnson is sending to his fellow members of Congress who might be considering an official overseas trip or two.

The Illinois Republican on Friday introduced the "Suspending Travel After Years of Pleasure Trips on Unwitting Taxpayers Act," also known simply as the "Stay-Put Act."

If passed into law, the bill would place a 180-day moratorium on congressional travel overseas while the Government Accountability Office is tasked with finding out how much is spent on travel, how many trips are taken per year, and how they are reported.

"Getting elected to Congress does not entitle anyone to a free global travel pass," Johnson said in a statement. "If a family needs to save money, they cut out the vacation. If we're serious about cutting spending, let's knock out these junkets and codels...that waste taxpayer dollars and serve little if any purpose."

The bill follows on the heels of a Congressional Research Service study Johnson commissioned, which concluded that there is currently "no means to identify the number of trips taken, destinations visited, travelers, total costs, or costs paid for by funds appropriated to government entities other than Congress."

Most congressional trips are funded by the State Department and the Department of Defense. In the last six months, lawmakers from the House of Representatives have traveled to diverse locales such as Haiti, Norway, Dubai, and the United Kingdom. Records posted by the Office of the Clerk show that the cost of travel and per diems for an 8-member trip to Norway in December cost $24,250. A trip to Dubai by a single member that month rang up to $11,327.10.

It's not the first time Johnson has decried congressional travel as a waste of taxpayer dollars. After a 2009 Wall Street Journal report revealed that taxpayer-funded travel had ballooned to three times 2001 levels, he introduced a bill by the same name. It never made it to the House floor.

But with all eyes on the deficit and the president's budget, Johnson indicated that lawmakers might pay better attention this time around.

"We are now poised to make meaningful departures from the spending patterns of the past, as we promised voters in November. This is one part of that promise," he said.