WASHINGTON -- Hawaii in January to study airlines. The Breeder's Cup Race in New York to learn about horses. The renowned Greenbrier resort in West Virginia to discuss pesticides.
Members of Congress have taken to heart President Bush's message to return to normal business in the aftermath of Sept. 11 and are traveling across America at the expense of special interests -- to give speeches and conduct fact-finding missions.
"I don't remember canceling anything," said Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., who just 10 days after the suicide hijackings took trips to Gulfport, Miss., and New Orleans paid for by the poultry and crop protection industries.
"We weren't going to let terrorists shut down our government," Cochran said.
While lawmakers defend privately paid travel as essential to their jobs, Common Cause contends that such trips since Sept. 11 have been little more than junkets.
"Our nation is at war, we're in a recession, and the continental U.S. has been attacked for the first time since the Civil War. It sends the wrong message, to say the least, for members of Congress to take luxury vacations on someone else's tab," said Scott Harshbarger, the group's president.
The Associated Press reviewed about 100 post-Sept. 11 congressional travel records for trips financed by private interests. Among groups paying lawmakers' expenses were the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the American Bankers Association, American Gas Association, Amtrak, British Airways, CSX Corp., and the National Rifle Association.
Congress changed its rules a decade ago to eliminate payments to lawmakers for speeches, but members can have their expenses paid when making a speech or on a fact-finding mission.