Republicans Keep Their Free Rides A Secret, But Won’t Do Much Else

Terrance Heath

By killing a key requirement that lawmakers disclose which lobbyists pick up the tab for their “all-expenses-paid trips around the world,” Republicans prove they can get things done when they really want to. Meanwhile, issues like immigration reform and infrastructure languish.

Republicans on the House Ethics committee couldn’t have picked a better moment to act. While the rest of the country focused on the Supreme Court’s devastating rulings for women and workers, members of the GOP-led committee quietly killed off a requirement that members of Congress who are treated to lavish, all-expenses-paid, global junkets must disclose it in their annual financial disclosure forms.

The rule dates back to the creation of the financial disclosure form, in the wake of the Watergate scandal. Republicans finally managed to get rid of it, behind closed doors and without any public announcement, while attention was focused on the Court’s recent controversial rulings. They would have gotten away with it, too, but the National Journal  uncovered the deleted requirement while pouring over the latest batch of annual filings.

Killing off the disclosure requirement makes it harder to find out which lawmakers are traveling on which lobbyists’ dime. The trips will still be disclosed to the House’s Office of the Clerk, but will not appear in the main documents that reporters, watchdogs, and the public have used to track lawmaker’s finances for more than 30 years.

Jet-setting lawmakers have some incentive to make their travel expenses a little less transparent. The National Journal reported that last year members of Congress and their aides took 1,900 trips, costing over $6 million. That’s more than in any other year since Jack Abramoff went to prison for influence-peddling.

President Obama has finally tired of the GOP’s obstructionist agenda, and turned to using executive orders to do what he can on issues that Congress hasn’t acted upon due to Republican obstruction. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has even threatened to sue the Obama administration over executive actions on issues like the federal minimum wage, equal pay, and Environmental Protection Agency regulations. (The GOP has even cut legislative staff for House committees, to focus on media and messaging instead.)

President Obama’s response to Boehner’s threat boiled down to three words: So sue me.

Republicans have shown that they can get done what they really want to get done. The GOP can’t pass immigration reform, even to save its own hide. Republicans can’t  extend unemployment insurance benefits to the long-term unemployed, or fund infrastructure projects to avoid layoffs for millions more. But they can keep the public from finding out which lobbyists are treating them to trips all over the world. This is who they are.

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