Congressional Flight to Florida: Costs to Consider
Today, thousands are expected to attend a public funeral in Florida for recently-deceased Congressman Bill Young (R-FL). At 82 years old, Rep. Young was the longest-serving Republican Member in the House. Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) has announced that his Chamber will be in recess so that lawmakers can attend the funeral, and has lifted restrictions on Congressional use of military aircraft that were put in place earlier this year. The military flight arranged for the Congressmen will reportedly leave on Thursday morning and return to Washington, D.C. later that evening.
So what will that mean for taxpayers, who are footing the bill for the trip?
Details about Congressional travel have been particularly difficult to ascertain in the past, and the logistics of today's four-hour round trip flight are no different. Congressional aides and staff from the Air Force and Department of Defense have not offered any cost estimates for the flight, and have not yet confirmed the type of aircraft that will be in use or even how many legislators plan to attend.
But NTUF has been able to find data concerning the cost per flight hour of various military aircraft that have previously been used to transport Members of Congress to domestic and international destinations. The table below summarizes those findings. Note that costs are based on a four-hour round trip flight between Washington, D.C. and Largo, FL.
Possible Military Planes for Congressional Use
Cost Per Flight Hour1
Total Round Trip Cost
1 USAF Cost Per Flying Hour Data for 2012, Eric Palmer blog
2 Pentagon Rejects Speaker Pelosi's Request for Military Aircraft, ABC News
3 C-32A Backgrounder, Boeing
4 Aircraft and Weapons: C-37 Gulfstream, U.S. Naval Air Systems Command
5 C-40B Backgrounder, Boeing
NTUF has examined the issue of transparency concerning travel in the Executive and Legislative Branches before. For more on the intricacies of Presidential travel, in particular, be sure to review our report from earlier this year.
The Budget Conference Committee: A BillTally Perspective
With the passage of H.R. 2775, the Continuing Appropriations Act, 2014*, the federal government reopened last Wednesday after a 16-day shutdown and will be funded until January 15th. The almost $1.2 trillion in spending for government operations is financed in part by an increase of the country's debt ceiling, which would permit additional borrowing authority through February 7th. H.R. 2775 also included other provisions such as requiring income verification for those applying for subsidies awarded through the Affordable Care Act exchanges (although this was originally included in the Act, the Administration had announced it would waive enforcement) and $450 million in aid for flooded areas in Colorado.
Apart from the bill, legislators agreed to convene a conference committee to hammer out a budget agreement before December 13th. The 29-member committee is required to reconcile provisions of both the House and Senate budget plans that were passed back in March. However, this is likely to be no easy feat: House Republicans passed a spending plan to begin the process of reforming America's entitlement programs (specifically, Social Security and Medicare) and boost defense spending, whereas the Senate's budget would raise taxes to help pay for more domestic spending.
Recently, a similar committee was tasked with developing a deficit reduction deal, but was unsuccessful. As NTUF detailed in 2011, the so-called Super Committee was charged with finding $1.2 trillion in savings over the next ten years or else face automatic across-the-board spending cuts known as sequestration. When the Democrats and Republicans on the committee failed to come to a bipartisan agreement, nearly every account in the government was required to return previously-appropriated funds back to the Treasury for debt reduction.
Now, two years later, the new conference committee is faced with more dire consequences. If it fails to come to an agreement that keeps the government open until the end of the 2014 Fiscal Year in October and finds a way to deal with chronic deficit spending, legislators will not have the fallback of new automatic spending cuts. They will be facing yet another government shutdown and quite possibly another debt ceiling crisis.
With this background in mind, NTUF looked at the proposed BillTally spending agendas of each of the conference committee members to see what direction they might take the federal budget. BillTally is a legislative accounting project that tracks the cost of all spending or savings proposals introduced in Congress. By cross-indexing that data with the bills each Member of Congress sponsored or co-sponsored, NTUF is able to generate individual Member reports that show how the legislation they sponsored would affect the federal budget. This gives taxpayers a unique insight into the fiscal policies their Senators and Representatives in Washington are pursuing. As seen below, the committee members' agendas span the spending spectrum.
Proposed 112th Congress Spending Agendas of
2014 Budget Conference Committee Members
(in millions of dollars)
|1 Senators Murray and Portman and Congressmen Van Hollen and Clyburn served on the 2011 "Super Committee."|
2 Senator Baldwin's net agenda taken from her House BillTally report.
3 Senator Kaine's net agenda taken from his NTUF Senate campaign study.
4 A BillTally report is not available for the freshman Senator King, who as an Independent caucuses with Senate Democrats.
5 Senator Sanders, who is an Independent, caucuses with Senate Democrats.
Source: NTUF BillTally System
Though not a guarantee of how each member will vote or act, proposed spending agendas can be indicative of their respective fiscal preferences. All but three of the appointed Democrats, would increase spending, while one is unknown due to lack of currently available information. Every named Republican would shrink the federal budget, with an average $270.8 billion annual agenda to decrease outlays. Averaging all committee members together, NTUF found that federal spending would increase by $2.5 billion per year if each legislator's agenda was enacted. The figures do not include overlapping, duplicative measures, such as multiple budget caps or related proposals to establish a universal health care system.
The failure of the Super Committee to come to an agreement, nor the failure of the leaders of the House, Senate, and White House to even seriously negotiate during the latest government shutdown, does not necessarily mean that this new budget conference committee is doomed to fail. But the underlying BillTally data suggests there is a wide difference of opinion between many of its members regarding the appropriate level of federal spending.
* H.R. 2775 was introduced by