- The Washington Times - Monday, August 10, 2009

Members of Congress couldn’t control their outrage last year when automobile executives flew to Washington in private jets. Their point was that it was unseemly for executives to travel in such high style while their institutions were strapped for cash. Apparently, the same rules don’t apply to Congress.

Late last month, the House of Representatives approved $197 million to buy three elite Gulfstream jets to fly around members of Congress and administration officials. In an effort to upgrade its service for Congress, the Air Force had requested just one jet, with a price tag of $65 million. That wasn’t enough for our public servants. The House Appropriations Committee set aside another $132 million for two more luxury aircraft.

Democrats tried to hide this questionable allocation of taxpayer money. Instead of treating the expenditure as an earmark, which would have required disclosure of the member who requested it, they included the additional planes as an expansion of an existing Defense Department program.

It’s a surprise that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi didn’t learn her lesson about the political scandal that can result when elected officials demand expensive special travel arrangements. In 2007, she demanded that the Pentagon break its rules and provide a jet that could fly her all the way back to her San Francisco congressional district without having to make a pit stop to refuel. Mrs. Pelosi also has raised eyebrows for the large amounts of money consumed so she can travel in style on international junkets.

In March, Judicial Watch obtained internal Pentagon correspondence in which a Defense Department official expressed concern about Mrs. Pelosi’s abuse of government-sponsored travel, which is provided by the Pentagon with military resources.

Regarding her numerous requests for transportation, the official wrote: “Any chance of politely querying [Mrs. Pelosi’s staff] if they really intend to do all of these or are they just picking every weekend? … [T]here’s no need to block every weekend ‘just in case’ … [Mrs. Pelosi’s office has] a history of canceling many of their past requests.”

The current era of uncontrolled government expansion has skewed the understanding of what’s appropriate in the public and private sectors. In principle, there’s nothing wrong with corporate executives flying in executive jets. Private money pays for that, and it can provide an efficient way for busy business leaders to work and travel at the same time. The same rules don’t apply to public officials on the public dole.

Sitting in coach with average taxpayers might help Speaker Pelosi understand public outrage at her profligacy at their expense.