House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) is curbing taxpayer funding of congressional trips abroad as part of the belt-tightening prompted by automatic spending cuts that begin Friday, according to Republicans.
In a Wednesday meeting with his Republican Conference, Boehner told the lawmakers that delegations headed abroad are forbidden from using taxpayer-funded military aircraft once the cuts take affect, according to Republicans in the room. This includes trips to review ongoing military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, severely limiting lawmakers ability to visit the war regions. The cuts, commonly known as the sequester, will trim $85 billion from federal spending for the remainder of fiscal year 2013, including hitting at congressional office budgets.
These trips, referred to as “codels,” are usually set up months and months in advance and include everything from visiting legislatures in other nations to reviewing the impact of climate change on the South Pole. In 2008, for example, members of the House and Senate spent $13 million on codels abroad.
Every House codel must be approved by the speaker’s office, giving Boehner broad leeway over these trips. Such a move would both save some money and provide symbolic cover from the potential criticism of lawmakers jetting to international events on military aircraft while other federal agencies get hit with steep spending cuts. Some codel destinations have long received scrutiny, including the annual Paris Air Show.
Some codels could still go forward if lawmakers were willing to fly commercial flights overseas, according to Republicans in the room. GOP aides suggested eliminating this perk — the single biggest privilege of traveling abroad — will essentially eliminate many non-war-related codels, but Democrats suggested that there are still many overseas trips that go by commercial flight.
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this post said that trips to Iraq and Afghanistan would be allowed to use taxpayer-funded military aircraft once the cuts take affect.