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January 9, 2007
The Addiction Remains Strong

The new Democratic majority in Congress has made ethics reform one of their centerpiece issues for the 110th session, and they have some good ideas about how to clean up the legislative branch. One of their proposals contains a ban against the use of corporate jets at commercial rates, a huge discount on charter rates. Unfortunately, Democrats in the Senate have exhibited less enthusiasm for this reform:

Senators are ready to relinquish lobbyist-paid steak dinners and skybox seats at sports arenas. But giving up the use of corporate jets at bargain prices might be one reform too many for them.

While a ban on using corporate jets flew through the House last week, it faces strong political headwinds in the Senate, which began debate Monday on its own ethics reforms. ...

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who as the new Senate Rules Committee chairwoman will play a central role in the debate on ethics legislation, favors "full disclosure" of senators' use of corporate jets, including the names of lobbyists on the flights. "To prohibit their use or make the cost prohibitive would make it very difficult for many members to get to, and around their states on a timely basis," she said.

Jim Manley, a spokesman for Reid, said, "Senators, especially from the West or from large states, sometimes have to deal with the need to travel to far-flung destinations in short periods of time and schedules that are subject to change until the last minute."

He said Reid is open to "considering new ideas on this issue as the bill progresses on the floor."

This is no sideshow for reform. Politicians at the national level used corporate jets over 2,300 times for their flights between 2001-2005. The practice allows them to save a great deal of money, and it allows them a convenience not found even for first-class passengers in commercial travel. Corporate jets wait for their passengers and offer personal service. It also allows de facto lobbyists hours of unfettered access to national politicians in order to plead for their pet causes while they serve the best of food and liquor.

After campaigning on the promise to clean up Congress, some Democrats apparently expect the help to do most of the heavy lifting. The reform packages offered by the Democrats focus significantly on the staffers and aides in their offices. This one piece of reform is one of the few that would almost entirely apply to the politicians themselves.

While the Democrats may pat themselves on the back for eliminating the free steaks, the rest of us wonder why they opted to keep the perk that has the greatest value. If commercial travel is good enough for the constituents, it should be good enough for the politicians. If not, isn't it their job to figure out ways to improve it?

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at January 9, 2007 5:04 AM

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