- The Washington Times - Friday, February 16, 2007

Barack Obama’s two years in the Senate have taken him around the world, from Russia to Iraq to Kenya — an itinerary more costly to taxpayers than any other senator who took office with him.

The Illinois Democrat’s travels in 2005 and 2006 cost taxpayers nearly $28,000 as he studied nuclear proliferation, AIDS, Middle Eastern violence and more.

Eight other freshman senators took office in 2005, and about $19,200 was the most anyone spent for government-paid travel, according to reports filed with the Senate Office of Public Records.

Mr. Obama’s journeys are unusual for such a junior senator, but not for someone thinking of a presidential run someday.

“Valuable or not, it’s the thing they all do to show that they’re knowledgeable about the world,” said Stephen Hess, a George Washington University professor and former presidential aide.

Mr. Obama, who announced his candidacy Saturday for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination, was one of two freshman members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in the 109th Congress. He spent $18,822 in per diem and transportation costs in 2006 as he visited Middle East hot spots and toured Africa. The previous year he spent $8,313 visiting the former Soviet Union and the United Kingdom.

The freshman with the next greatest spending on taxpayer-funded trips was Sen. Richard M. Burr, North Carolina Republican, whose visits included China, Russia and the Middle East at a cost of about $19,200. Ranking third was freshman Sen. Tom Coburn, Oklahoma Republican, who spent $17,867 to visit China and Kuwait, among other places. Neither is a member of the Foreign Relations Committee.

However, other freshmen also took trips — both foreign and domestic — funded by private groups, which Mr. Obama does not accept. If Mr. Coburn’s privately funded trips are included, his total travel amounts to nearly $29,000 for the two years — more than any other freshman.

Mr. Obama’s travels also were eclipsed by some of the committee’s more senior senators.

Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat, for instance, spent more than $61,000 on just taxpayer-subsidized trips during 2005-2006. Sen. Richard G. Lugar, the Indiana Republican who was then-chairman of the committee, spent more than $94,000 in combined taxpayer funded and privately funded trips.

Mr. Obama’s staff issued a brief statement saying he is proud that his Russia trip led to an anti-proliferation law and that his Africa trip encouraged people to be tested for AIDS. Staff members also released a letter from Mr. Lugar praising Mr. Obama’s personal diplomacy on the African trip.

The official travel spending figures reported to the government don’t include the cost of flights on military aircraft, which are often used on overseas trips by a congressional delegation. They also omit the staff time and security costs incurred by the U.S. embassies in the countries lawmakers visit.

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