Pelosi Demands Free Military Air Travel for Adult Children of Congress

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is demanding that the military fly adult children of Congressmen around for free, Mike Soraghan reports for The Hill.

Pentagon officials are bracing for a fight with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) over her desire to allow lawmakers’ adult children to tag along on taxpayer-funded travel for free. Pelosi wants them to be able to fill the role of lawmakers’ spouses when the latter are unable to make a trip because of health issues or work commitments.

“It has been longstanding policy that, in the absence of a congressional spouse, the adult child of a member of Congress may accompany the member on official U.S. government travel abroad for protocol reasons and without reimbursing the U.S. Treasury,” Pelosi spokesman Nadeam Elshami said. “Speaker Pelosi believes that a modern policy must reflect the professional responsibilities or health realities that might prevent a spouse from participating, and instead permit an adult child to fulfill the protocol needs of the official trip.”

Pentagon officials say the policy is that the Treasury must be reimbursed at commercial rates for children who accompany members on such trips, often called codels.

Pelosi’s office inquired about such travel on June 1, according to a Department of Defense memo obtained by The Hill. In a June 8 memo, the head of legislative affairs for the Pentagon, Robert L. Wilkie, told Defense Secretary Robert Gates that he sees Pelosi’s question as a first step toward challenging the policy. “We were told that the Speaker would expect that members’ children (of married and unmarried [members of Congress]) would not have to reimburse the Treasury,” Wilkie wrote. “We expect future challenges from the House leadership on this policy.” Pentagon aides did not respond to requests for comment.

But taxpayer watchdog groups and ethics advocates said they were surprised Pelosi would seek more perks for members. “One of the things she was praised for when she came in was her sweeping reforms on gifts and travel,” said Craig Holman of Public Citizen. “It is very disheartening if she is, in fact, backsliding on this.”

Public Citizen filed a complaint with the IRS last year, saying that family members who receive free travel by accompanying lawmakers should pay taxes on the travel’s value. The complaint focused on privately sponsored travel, but Holman said it should apply to taxpayer-funded travel as well. “I don’t see any difference,” Holman said.

In its first week with a Democratic majority this year, the House passed what Pelosi called “the toughest congressional ethics reform in history.” It forbade gifts and travel from lobbyists and banned travel on corporate jets. It did not address publicly funded travel such as codels.

[…]

The president’s family, such as President Bush’s twin daughters, can travel without reimbursement. They cannot fly commercially for security reasons. But most executive-branch officials either do not bring family members on military aircraft or reimburse, Stanley said. Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld would fly with his wife back to Taos, N.M., he said, but was scrupulous about reimbursing.

Frankly, if there are seats available, I’m not sure there’s much harm in children, friends, or whomever the dignitary wishes to invite along being allowed to ride along. Still, it comes across as highhanded for the Speaker to demand this sort of treatment as a perk.

It’s also, as Brad Dayspring argues, a rather odd fight for her to pick while she’s on the “clean up Congress” bandwagon.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. lunacy says:

    Wasn’t she just a short while ago demanding that the military tote her and her buddies around?

    See, its the death by a thousand cuts of privileges that she wants to call rights.

    No, not if she’s going to put it forth in that manner.

  2. Ugh says:

    Lawmakers’ children currently can travel gratis if they get a waiver, termed an “invitation,” from the secretary of defense, according to Dan Stanley, a former assistant secretary for legislative affairs at the Pentagon. “Children have always flown as an exception to policy,” Stanley said.

    I’m guessing that the “exception” has become the rule and Pelosi is just asking to cut out the crap of asking for an “invitation.” But yeah, this looks pretty bad.

    Wasn’t she just a short while ago demanding that the military tote her and her buddies around?

    If that’s what you want to call what Speaker Hastert got, then sure.

  3. Wickedpinto says:

    It sounds more like she doesn’t want to lower herself to making requests, rather than that she has been denied.

    How dare the SecDef require that she submit the request and offer exception.

    I agree, if the seats are available, I don’t think it’s a big deal, but the background for this might be a little shady. Like say, speeker pelosi wants to show off her shiny new office to her eldest daughter, so she fly’s to san-fran for purposes of policy, picks up her daughter, and flys back after a few hour visit with her consituents.

    Then spends a couple days in DC with lobbying groups who might want to hier someone new with contacts like say. . . her eldest daughter, and after the interviews. . . .I mean site seeing, she needs to go back to san-fran for constituent research, and drops her daughter off, I meen meets with the people she represents and then returns to washington.

    I don’t think any of this is true, but it could be for anyone, and if it were, it would be an outrage wouldn’t it?

    Best to recruit a conspirator, or editor like the SecDef to ensure that that stuff doesn’t happen as often.

    Or to get rid of the perk all together. Theres nothing wrong with people who are priveledged (an impoverished child of congress is a rare thing) paying the 300 bucks of commercial air service.

  4. Christopher says:

    Its MY money! Why should I pay for her kids? NO!

  5. The phrase “adult children” really says it all here. The infinite extension of adolescence.

    This policy may prove to be more expensive because larger planes may be necessary to provide sufficient seats for all the children, even if they aren’t used. But my real concern is that this further pushes us further toward an aristocracy by birthright, as incumbency becomes a familial legacy. This is really, really bad for our ideals of democracy and meritocracy.

  6. DaveD says:

    Ah yes, adult children. Then the next step is the grand children. Then the girlfriend/boyfriend of a teenage grandchild because, well, when they’re with Grandma Pelosi visiting Venezuela, they don’t wanna hang out with the adults all the time. The number of “empty” seats does not justify this move.

  7. Michael says:

    I can’t help but feel that everyone here is taking this out of context and to the extreme. From the linked article:

    Pelosi wants them to be able to fill the role of lawmakers’ spouses when the latter are unable to make a trip because of health issues or work commitments.

    So she’s not asking for additional seats, just asking that if a spouse can’t fill the seat they’ve been alloted by current policy, that another member of the family can use it. Not really going to cost taxpayers anything extra, is it?

    Pelosi’s office inquired about such travel on June 1, according to a Department of Defense memo obtained by The Hill.
    In a June 8 memo, the head of legislative affairs for the Pentagon, Robert L. Wilkie, told Defense Secretary Robert Gates that he sees Pelosi’s question as a first step toward challenging the policy.

    Now, I don’t see where anyone got the notion to call this a “demand”. I haven’t seen the actual request, and neither James nor the linked article posted anything from the request if they’ve seen it, so it feels dishonest to call it anything other than a request. So far only a DoD official, in a memo to his boss, has claimed that this could, possibly, at some time in the future, lead to something more than it is.

    Lawmakers’ children currently can travel gratis if they get a waiver, termed an “invitation,” from the secretary of defense, according to Dan Stanley, a former assistant secretary for legislative affairs at the Pentagon. He said it was rare for a lawmaker to travel with his or her children.

    “Children have always flown as an exception to policy,” Stanley said. “I’m unaware of any substantial policy that would allow children to take the representational role of a spouse.”

    Now, when combined with the first quote from Pelosi’s office, seems to indicate that the Speaker is asking that the long standing “actual” policy of waiving a single adult child in place of a spouse become the “official” policy. If we are in fact granting these “exceptions to policy” more often than not, then that should be coded into the official policy so as to avoid the possibility of political bais in their granting.

  8. carpeicthus says:

    Michael, please stop polluting this entry with facts.

  9. Michael says:

    carpeicthus,
    Sorry, I sometime forget the rules of “civil discourse” for online conversation. At least this one didn’t get trapped in the moderation filter this time.

  10. Ok, can someone please point out exactly what the taxpayer supported role of spouses are for our elected overlords? Especially those roles that can then be fulfilled by children at taxpayer expense. Extra bonus points if you can explain how this doesn’t undercut congressional complaints about an “imperial” executive.

    And like said before, this will lead to larger planes having to be used whether it is said explicitly or not since no one in uniform will want to be the one who denies Alexandra Pelosi her seat, whenever she demands, I mean, requests it.

  11. Michael says:

    Ok, can someone please point out exactly what the taxpayer supported role of spouses are for our elected overlords?

    Not exactly the point here is it? Unless you think that only the congressmen themselves should ever get gratis air fare, which I doubt will get much support from either party. Besides, aren’t we supposed to be using the federal government for protecting marriages? Surely leaving the spouse at home during long overseas trips isn’t good for the relationship.

    And like said before, this will lead to larger planes having to be used whether it is said explicitly or not

    Since they would not be changing the total number of people eligible I don’t see why they would need a larger plane. Unless you think that their children are generally fatter than their spouses, and would need to occupy 2 seats instead of 1.

  12. Not exactly the point here is it?

    Well, yeah, it is, since Speaker Pelosi uses it explicitly as the rationale for them being on the plane to begin with.

    Besides, aren’t we supposed to be using the federal government for protecting marriages?

    And I’m the one having trouble staying on topic?

    Since they would not be changing the total number of people eligible I don’t see why they would need a larger plane.

    Children is plural. Spouse is singular. So far, at least.

  13. Michael says:

    Well, yeah, it is, since Speaker Pelosi uses it explicitly as the rationale for them being on the plane to begin with.

    The argument is whether or not it should be official policy (instead of unofficial policy) that an adult child can take the place of a spouse who cannot go. The argument is NOT about whether or not the spouse should have had such privilege in the first place.

    Children is plural. Spouse is singular. So far, at least.

    Again I didn’t see the actual memo, but Pelosi’s office is saying it would be a one-for-one tradeoff, not multiple children instead of a singular spouse.

  14. Wickedpinto says:

    This policy may prove to be more expensive because larger planes may be necessary to provide sufficient seats for all the children,

    If those were the lines being used, then I have this to say.

    This week my mothers family had a family reunion.

    I have 72 LIVING relatives on JUST my mothers side.

    I’m more than confident that I have more than 50 on my fathers, and I’m not counting great! grandchildren from my mothers generation.

    Though Michael is right, as long as the ONLY form of subsidized transport is to refill the seat of a serving members spouse, thats barely even a “deal” let alone a “big deal.”

    But let me say this. I worked for a period of time in a professional environment, and I had to attend schools that were more than a week, and in fact more than 3 months long, and I wasn’t allowed by the company that sent me to bring anyone along to keep me company on my lonely efforts of professional education.

    The BIG difference is Pelosi engaged in a 5 day multinational trip. If you get that lonely that fast? you are unfit for leadership, hell you are unfit for work.

  15. Michael says:

    But let me say this. I worked for a period of time in a professional environment, and I had to attend schools that were more than a week, and in fact more than 3 months long, and I wasn’t allowed by the company that sent me to bring anyone along to keep me company on my lonely efforts of professional education.

    I’m not quite sure you appreciate just how much their jobs become a commitment by the whole family. But really, 3 months away for schooling? WTF?