Lawmakers planning to attend the funeral of Rep. C. W. "Bill" Young (R-Fla.) will be able to fly to the Sunshine State aboard U.S. military aircraft -- an exception to an austerity-era rule restricting congressional use of government aircraft.
The office of House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) is arranging for a flight Thursday from Andrews Air Force Base to Florida to attend Young's funeral, with the aircraft scheduled to return Thursday evening, according to House aides. The decision comes even though Boehner earlier this year put in place rules requiring House lawmakers to seek permission from Boehner to use military aircraft on overseas trips, including trips to visit U.S. military service members in Iraq and Afghanistan, because of automatic budget cuts, known as sequestration.
In March Boehner required the House delegation attending the installation mass for Pope Francis to fly on a commercial aircraft to Rome.
So why the exception for Young? Boehner spokesman Michael Steel said in an e-mail that "Given Rep. Young's long and distinguished service to his Congressional district, and especially to the men and women of our Armed Forces, the rule against military aircraft is waived for his funeral."
Young was a longtime member of the House Appropriations Committee especially concerned with military spending.
No word yet from Boehner's office on how many lawmakers plan to attend -- but House GOP leaders cancelled plans to hold votes Thursday in order to permit lawmakers to attend the Young funeral.
Military aircraft was also used in recent months to transport lawmakers to the funerals of Sens. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) and Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii).
Cost estimates for congressional military flights vary -- the Pentagon doesn't provide hard numbers -- with some academics estimating that the flights cost roughly $10,000 per hour. An investigation by a Florida newspaper this year found that at least 172 House lawmakers spent more than $1.5 million in 2012 visiting more than 90 countries on private commercial aircraft.