Senators get multipe-ticket benefit restored
So much for traveling like the rest of us.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) this week quietly inserted a provision into a Defense Department spending bill that allows senators to continue booking multiple tickets with airlines to get home to their states in the most expeditious way possible.
Rather than wait around for the committees of jurisdiction to handle the matter, Reid and McConnell on their own approved a one-sentence provision, unrelated to the underlying Pentagon funding bill, changing Senate rules to clarify that the multiple-reservation benefits were not actually gifts from the airlines.
"It is not a gift for a commercial airline to allow a member, officer or employee to make multiple reservations on scheduled flights consistent with Senate travel regulations," the Reid-McConnell resolution reads.
"Senators Reid and McConnell thought a formal rules change, not just guidance from the Ethics Committee, was preferable," said Jim Manley, spokesman for Reid. "Under the new law, companies may face criminal penalties if they violate the gift rules, so a rules change eliminates ambiguity. The new rule provides a clear framework for the process that was already under way."
As first reported by Capitol Briefing in The Post's "On the Hill" column, new ethics-and-lobbying rules prompted the Air Transport Association to issue an advisory legal opinion warning that it could be a violation of the gift ban if they allowed senators to double- and sometimes triple-book reservations for flights. At least three airlines took up the advice - Continental, Delta and Northwest - and ended what had been a long-standing benefit give to senators.
The need for making multiple reservations, as explained by Senators and aides, is that sometimes the senatorial calendar is highly unpredictable. For example, this week's votes wrapped up around 5 p.m. yesterday, while many aides thought Friday votes were possible. So, during a week like this, schedulers for senators would book their bosses on flights out on Thursday evening and Friday morning or afternoon, then have the senator take whichever flight best fit the schedule of the Senate. The other flight or flights would simply not be taken.
Hearing complaints last month from her colleagues, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the Rules and Administration Committee that crafted most of the new ethics package, told Capitol Briefing she sent a letter asking the Ethics committee to examine the issue and determine what should be done.
But Reid and McConnell seem to have short-circuited that process with their resolution, not to mention they have now defined the multiple-booking benefit to include staff and officers of the chamber, such as the Sergeant-at-Arms. Manley said that aides travel schedules are never as hectic as senators and that the benefit is not likely to be offered to staff. "We simply clarified what has always been true -- multiple booking is not a 'gift' anymore than if a restaurant allowed you to hold two separate reservations. If it's not a gift for members, it's not a gift for staff," he said.
However, with the legislation not yet signed into law the new Reid-McConnell travel ruling has not taken effect, and the Ethics committee is still considering the issue. "This matter is before the Ethics Committee, and we will be acting on it soon," said Natalie Ravitz, spokeswoman for Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), chairman of Ethics.
For what it's worth, McConnell's trips home are to Louisville International Airport, which is serviced by, among others, Continental and Delta. Reid's trips home are to McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas, where Continental, Delta and Northwest are all carriers.
October 5, 2007; 4:17 PM ET
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