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In the Loop: U.S. lawmakers visit Haiti and its president . . . that guy

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By Al Kamen
Wednesday, August 11, 2010

As Loop Fans know, many jaunts by congressional delegations (codels) overseas are not much more than taxpayer-paid vacations. But many others are actually working trips. (There's a handy guide on how to tell which is which.)

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For example, a bipartisan House delegation took off for Haiti on Friday to check conditions there seven months after the horrific earthquake that devastated the country. The group was led by Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and included GOP Reps. Roscoe Bartlett (Md.) and Aaron Schock (Ill.), along with Democrats David Price (N.C.), Yvette Clarke (N.Y.) and Donna Edwards (Md.).

Even in the best of times in Haiti -- and these are definitely not -- going to Port-au-Prince in August is not a good idea. The average high temp is 93.2 degrees (pretty much like here, it seems) and, worse, it's the rainy season. That might be why the group left Friday morning and came back that same afternoon.

Still, they toured, reviewed the relief effort and met with U.S. and Haitian officials, including "the President of Haiti, Jean Preval, at the National Palace," according to a news release from Hoyer's office. A long day's work.

It would appear that Préval didn't make much of an impression on the group, since his first name is actually René. On the other hand, could be they're thinking ahead to a win in November by presidential candidate Wyclef Jean, the immensely popular three-time Grammy winner and hip-hop musician.

There's little doubt that the Haitian-born, U.S.-raised, now-reported-to-be-40-year-old Jean, who runs an aid foundation for Haiti, would win the presidency. Probably would be a good idea if he settled up with the IRS and other people on some tax matters. The various taxes owed come to about $5 million, according to South Florida CBS News affiliate WFOR and the Smoking Gun Web site.

$5 million or bust

Speaking of codels, our favorite travelers, outgoing Sen. Arlen Specter (R/D-Pa.) and his wife, Joan, are said to be off on a fine swing through Asia with stops in Beijing, maybe Taiwan and possibly Vietnam. His office, citing security concerns, declined to discuss any details.

This is a very small delegation. Actually just the Specters and an aide or two, flying commercial, from what we hear. They took off over the weekend and will return early next week.

Though Specter only has a few months left in office, it's important that the lowest-ranking Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee's subcommittee on the Department of State, foreign operations and related programs keep on top of things. He'll doubtless be meeting with various officials and so forth, so the Senate will be apprised of his take on the views of those foreign officials.

Specter, winner of the Loop Lifetime Government Traveler Award, is doing his part to help the Senate's strong push this year to set an all-time high for foreign travel costs. This effort is on track despite the Foreign Relations Committee's cost-cutting attempt, which has reduced that panel's foreign-travel tab by 25 percent, according to a report by Roll Call's Paul Singer.

For the first half of this year, Senate overseas travel cost $2.6 million, 30 percent more than the first half of 2009, putting the Senate in good position to break the $5 million mark for the first time. (These costs do not include most Iraq and Afghanistan travel, which is picked up by the military, nor tens of millions in Pentagon costs for planes, Roll Call reported. Also not included are several million dollars a year that the State Department spends to support these trips.)

Well, fact-finding is never cheap.


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