Annual Treasury Department reports indicate that the cost of Congressional foreign travel tripled from about $6.4 million in 2001 to $19.4 million in 2008, coming in at $17.6 million in 2009. The government has spent more than $110.5 million on sending Members and staffers abroad since 2001, according to the Treasury reports, though only a fraction of that is accounted for in the Congressional Record.
Johnson hopes his legislation can provide a path to both help ensure Congressional travel abroad is for a truly legitimate and not "tangential" purpose and to rein in the cost of the trips that do occur.
"At a time when we're going to increase the national debt, to have this unlimited spigot of money with no criteria or standards built into it ... it's not dishonest, but it's not appropriate," Johnson said.
But some still defend foreign travel for staff. "For committee staff, who don't necessarily have a constituency they're responding to other than the Members, it is an opportunity for them to learn firsthand what's going on in other parts of the world," said Lanier Avant, the Democratic staff director who led the December trip.
Terri Henderson, 6, center, whose mother is El Salvador, attends a rally with members of Congress at Union Station's Columbus Circle to announce the Restore Opportunity, Strengthen, and Improve the Economy (ROSIE) Act on July 29, 2014. The legislation provides incentives for government contractors to pay a living wage and other benefits that would help low-income workers.