Sen. Jeff Sessions may have spent much of the past week slamming the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for holding its annual taxpayer-funded conference in Hawaii, but the conservative lawmaker has also taken trips to exotic locales on the taxpayer’s dime.
In the wake of the scandal over the General Services Administration’s lavish Las Vegas conference, the Alabama Republican has been a leading voice in demanding the executive and judicial branches scale back their spending on conferences.
Sessions’ office launched a blitz against the court’s conference, sending out 10 press releases in just three days on the issue.
“This conference is further evidence the federal government is in a state of financial chaos,” Sessions said in a statement when the scandal first broke. “How can anyone in Washington ask for more taxes when this culture of excess continues? Americans struggling to pay their bills are tired of watching the government throw lavish events on the taxpayer dime.”
In a floor speech Wednesday, Sessions again brought up the 9th Circuit, charging it “will spend a million or more taxpayer dollars for a decadent getaway to beach front resort and spa in the Hawaiian tropics.”
Judiciary ranking member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) was equally critical. “Technology is so advanced that people are earning college degrees online and soldiers serving halfway across the world use Skype with their families at home,” he said in a statement. “A judicial circuit court should be capable of using technology to share information without requiring a trip to an island paradise. It’s especially tone-deaf to plan a pricey conference after the GSA debacle.”
But even a budget hawk such as Sessions — who has voluntarily cut operating costs in his office and the minority side of the Budget Committee by 15 percent — has done a bit of taxpayer-funded travel, including a 2011 trip to the Croatian resort town of Opatija to give the keynote address at an International Leaders Summit. And his top health care staffer spent two weekends that year on the tony resort island of Destin, Fla., at medical conferences.
Like the conferences put on by the 9th Circuit and the GSA, these trips were undertaken for official business, do not violate any ethics rules and are generally seen as vital parts of a lawmaker and his staff’s duties.
They do, however, cost money.
Neither House nor Senate critics of the GSA or the 9th Circuit have turned such a critical eye on Capitol Hill, and Sessions is far from alone in using federal funds to finance official trips to resorts.
Lawmakers routinely spend thousands of taxpayer dollars for themselves and their staff to attend beachside conferences, conventions held just steps from breathtaking ski slopes and fact-finding missions tied to hotels located next to golf courses.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.