Sunday's Wall Street Journal scrutinized a 10-member congressional delegation’s trip to the South Pole over New Year’s 2008. Louisiana Congressman Charlie Melancon was on the 11-day, six-stop trip that included a bit of snorkeling at the Great Barrier Reef, a cable car through the Australian rain forest, a visit to a penguin rookery and one night’s stay at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel in Waikiki. Melancon was one of six members to bring along his spouse, though his wife’s traveling expenses were only partially covered by taxpayers. A Journal analysis shows congressional trips overseas are on the rise, with legislators and aides having reported spending about $13 million on overseas trips last year, a nearly 10-fold jump since 1995.
The South Pole trip, led by Rep. Brian Baird (D., Wash.), ranks among the priciest. The lawmakers reported a cost to taxpayers of $103,000.
That figure, however, doesn’t include the actual flying, because the trip used the Air Force planes, not commercial carriers. Flight costs would lift the total tab to more than $500,000, based on Defense Department figures for aircraft per-hour operating costs.
Lawmakers say the trip offered them a valuable chance to learn about global warming and to monitor how federal funds are spent. 'The trip we made was more valuable than 100 hearings,' said Rep. Baird, its leader. 'Are there members of Congress who take trips somewhat recreationally? Perhaps. Is this what this trip was about? Absolutely not.'
Congressman Melancon’s spokesperson Robin Winchell has issued the following response:
As a representative of a coastal state that is suffering from rising
seas levels and more intense, more frequent hurricanes, Congressman
Melancon is very concerned about climate change. He participated in the
Congressional trip to Antarctica to gain first-hand and academic look at
the science of this issue, and learn from scientists who are on the
cutting edge of studying climate change.
He believes we must work together as a nation to reduce the carbon
pollution causing this climate change, but not on the back of
Louisiana’s energy industry that provides good jobs to hundreds of
thousands of workers in our state.
While he was not able to support the climate change bill that passed the
House in June, Congressman Melancon is committed to working with his
colleagues on a comprehensive energy policy that will meet the shared
goal of reducing pollution, while also protecting the economy of his
As for Mrs. Melancon’s participation, I think it’s important to emphasize that Congressman Melancon and his wife wrote a personal check for all additional expenses incurred by Mrs. Melancon’s participation. Congressman Melancon’s wife has been his partner for 37 years, and he
values the insight and perspective she offers.