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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.

By Paul Kane  |  October 5, 2007; 4:17 PM ET
 
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Comments

Too bad if their schedule isn't predictable. Tough isn't it. Get the Senate Leadership to make it more predictable. Don't fly back and forth so much. When they leave work, they should have to stand in line like the rest of us. They need to live in the world that their laws and regulations create. Call it a fact-finding mission. Yo, Senator, stay in touch!

Posted by: thebob.bob | October 6, 2007 1:43 AM | Report abuse

Calling the sky brown does not make it so. Calling a special privilege a non-gift as determined by the very people who want to use that special privilege does not make it a non-gift either.

Posted by: mec | October 7, 2007 1:03 PM | Report abuse

To Political reporter,

Cong. Lipinski advisory

FYI This is not to be blogged.

Mark Brown, Sun-Times Sunday Column on former Congressman, now lobbyist William Lipinski, son Congressman Dan Lipinski and two congressional staffers involved in either raising or receiving cash from an apparent phony fund-raising scheme.

The link is below or you can just go to suntimes.com and hit the Columnist Mark Brown link.

http://www.suntimes.com/news/brown/591671,CST-NWS-brown07.emailstory

Posted by: Lee Harris | October 8, 2007 1:59 PM | Report abuse

The powers that be are on to the airlines about overbooking, poor on-time records, etc. and then they throw a monkey wrench into the pot by voting themselves and their aides the privilege of multiple bookings. What does that do to the airlines' schedules. Or don't they care?

Posted by: fran jackson | October 8, 2007 2:14 PM | Report abuse

..oh I see..Joe Public can't double book or get around the screwy airline rule system, but elected officials can?!...

SOMETHING SMELLS FISHY!

Posted by: Kathleen | October 8, 2007 2:18 PM | Report abuse

Multiple bookings cause airlines to overbook flights, which often causes denied boardings, dis-services the public, and adversely affects the airlines' revenue. Why do public officials deserve priveleges that other persons cannot have? They are not the only ones that have unpredictable meeting schedules. Some of them don't see the need to set higher ethical examples as their forefathers who founded this country did.

Posted by: SJK | October 8, 2007 2:21 PM | Report abuse

Why not? Airlines report 75% capacity. Alternate; use military training flights!

Posted by: GSteed | October 8, 2007 2:57 PM | Report abuse

Contrary to what Reid and McConnell believe, the issue at hand is not one that can be remedied by an act of congress or any other legislative or administrative body for that matter. It is one that the airlines are responsible for. The policy that prohibits the practice of double-booking was established by the airlines. If an airline looks the other way while someone double-books flights it is indeed a "gift" and can not be legislated to be anything else. Even though Reid and McConnell could be commended for their "out-of-the-box" thinking, legislating it does not make it so. My hat goes off to CO, DL and NW for being proactive by committing to enforce the self-imposed policy that applies to the rest of us.

Posted by: ADPerkins | October 8, 2007 3:01 PM | Report abuse

Why are elected officials "special". They need to start living like the rest of us, the people that elected them into office ! If it's a non-refundable ticket then they pay the change fee as well as any difference in fare, like the rest of us do. Of course it doesn't come out of their pocket anyway. If it's a refundable ticket, then it doesn't matter and no need for multiple bookings, as long as a seat is available for when they actually get around to flying.
Just an FYI...if they have unrefundable tickets, we are the ones paying their fees when they change the multiple bookings that they have. Eventually those extra tickets will be used. If not, then it is our money lost.
We don't have a government "of the people, for the people". It's a government "of the rich, for the rich".

Posted by: catsndogs | October 8, 2007 3:04 PM | Report abuse

'All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.'

Animal Farm, Orwell

Free the Pigs, Let them Double Book

Posted by: Farmer448 | October 8, 2007 3:39 PM | Report abuse

Let's start with the simple things since scheduling for these bozo's appears to be a problem. The work week starts on Monday at 08:00 and ends on Friday at 17:00. Now plan your travel around that schedule. Your pay gets docked if you should leave work early or arrive for work late.

Posted by: rlbowolick | October 8, 2007 5:41 PM | Report abuse

Senator Ted Stevens blatantly abuses his power to set up special Alaskan Native rules in Federal contracting that waste millions and millions of tax dollars and send money to his home state, the least populated of all. He and his son are implicated in all kinds of corruption, but the bad laws stay on the books.

Now by paying 5 million in lobby fees and campaign contributions, Private Equity firms are finding a way to get off with a 15% tax rate on huge earnings (hundreds of millions), far less in taxes than the average steel worker, teacher, soldier, or union labor worker pays. I am sick of lobbyists, sick of the lazy, fat boy Senators doing nothing, do nothing of what the people want, nobody agrees to work on any meaningful legistlation, corruption everywhere. I am a lifelong Republican, but now I am totally sick of the whole system. Everything is apparently for sale, especially if it benefits fat cat private equity firms that make all the money (they have shares that can't even be bought as common stock!) and keep all the wealth tax-free. The rest of us are paying 35%!

I work for a company that was just bought out by private equity, the first thing they do is cut jobs and benefits and pay themselves huge "management" fees for "making the business more competitive". What a joke! It's a crime! Abuse of the law, making yourself above the law with money and lobbyists! Study history, this is the stuff that comes before a revolution!

Posted by: Senate of the People- No Way | October 9, 2007 12:21 AM | Report abuse

Why can't the senators do the same thing the general public does, in accordance with airlines' rules: Just buy multiple full-fare refundable tickets. You only pay for the one you use, and you get a refund on the rest.

Posted by: Scott | October 9, 2007 11:53 AM | Report abuse

Lest we forget we are thier servants, they can do as they please, we are the ones who bow to them. Don't belive me Just look at how they act. Maybe we should just vote them all out of office and start over. No they would just wright a law to change that. Oh well..... Fair Tax Forever.

Posted by: T. SIlmon | October 9, 2007 12:44 PM | Report abuse

Many, perhaps the majority of business travelers travel with the same worries that the Congress does. We don't know when our meetings will finish. But our only recourse is to go to an agent and asked to be "rolled" or switched to another flight. If Congress can do it, so should all citizens be able to. That may put a stop to it since the airlines probably could not handle it.

Posted by: Marty | October 9, 2007 4:01 PM | Report abuse

"We hang the petty thieves, and elect the great ones to high office."

Posted by: crafter48@netscape.com | October 11, 2007 8:21 AM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

 
 
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