D's and R's deserve a rest - in Cambodia

By Al Kamen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 23, 2010; 6:58 PM

The midterm elections left House Democrats depressed and exhausted. Elated Republicans are working 24-7, preparing to take over. Both sides need a break.

And what better place to chill than in beautiful Cambodia for the week between Christmas and New Year's? The weather should be mid-80s and sunny.

Sunrise at stunning Angkor Wat, the beautiful carvings at nearby Bayon, a slow boat down the Mekong and then local markets for exquisite silk scarves - cheap. Best of all, it's free! Even bestest, you might get to go on a military jet. (No scanners, no one touching your junk, no lines at immigration or customs, and your bags magically appear when you need them.)

But hurry! An e-mail invitation we got Monday from Rep. Laura Richardson (D-Calif.) , who's putting together the planned congressional delegation (codel) , says the sign-up deadline is Dec. 1. "Travel will be by military transport if the size of the delegation warrants," she says in her "Dear Colleague" invite.

If anyone questions why you are going on this, just say "the purpose is to examine the political, economic and social realities of Cambodia . . . and to observe its increasing importance to the United States," Richardson explains.

Of course, as our colleague John Pomfret wrote last weekend , the Chinese have already pretty much bought the place. (Still, you might visit the site of the $600 million rail line they've offered to build between Phnom Penh and Vietnam.)

If that's not enough for skeptics, you can say you're going "to celebrate the 60th anniversary of U.S.-Cambodia relations and to promote discourse . . . on economic development, government response to natural disasters, transportation and infrastructure," she suggests.

The emphasis on transportation, infrastructure and disasters may be because Richardson is on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and the Homeland Security Committee, not on the Foreign Affairs, Armed Services or Appropriations committees. So maybe you can hit the coast to look over the Chinese-bankrolled multibillion-dollar 120-square-mile real estate development there.

Unless you're against "promoting discourse," don't delay. But remember: House Rule XXIV bars travel for any member who lost the recent election or, for those who didn't run, after the end of the current lame-duck session.

Lame (Peking) duck

Speaking of lame-duck travel, we finally got an accounting for that fine 11-day trip that outgoing Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.) and his wife, along with an aide and a military officer, took to China, Taiwan and Vietnam back in August. This was the one his office actually tried to defend in a letter to the editor in this very newspaper, saying it was "well worth the taxpayers' money."

The letter said he "carried a forceful message" and "warned" top Chinese officials about their currency manipulation and illegal dumping of products here. The Chinese, who summarily blew off President Obama's criticisms on the same issues earlier this month, surely were quaking after Specter, a lame duck since losing a May primary race, took them to task.

So $22,000 to send an outgoing, low-ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Committee and a staffer to Asia was worth it? We should note that the military aide's travel is not included in the Senate disclosure, and that Specter picked up his wife's extras. Similarly, no costs were included for the hours spent by a score of State Department officials who were rounded up to brief him in China and Vietnam, nor for any ground transportation furnished by the embassies. How about his July trip to Syria, Israel, Croatia, the Czech Republic and France?

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