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Published: Wednesday, 5/19/2010

Clipping Congress' wings

THE next time you travel by airplane, check out your row mates. Speaker Nancy Pelosi's austere new rules governing travel by House members mean that the uncomfortable yet familiar face next to you could be your representative in Congress.

During the past several months, the Wall Street Journal published a series of stories documenting how House members spend your money on "fact-finding" trips to places such as London and Kabul. The Journal found that while the federal government is running huge deficits, members of both parties were taking advantage of - even abusing - overgenerous travel allowances.

House members often flew business class - when they weren't traveling on even more expensive military planes. They took spouses and members of their personal staffs along on the public dime. Many spent taxpayer dollars on personal items, gifts for constituents, and booze, and pocketed the leftover cash.

No more. From now on, House members will have to fly coach like the rest of us, except on trips longer than 14 hours. In addition, they'll have to pay for spouses or personal aides to come along, gifts will be bought out of their own pockets, and any money left over after the trip will be returned to the Treasury. Use of expensive military aircraft will need to be approved in advance.

No matter what the motivation (congressional elections are fast approaching and voters are in a foul mood), the result will be welcomed by taxpayers who see nothing but red ink flowing out of Washington.

Senate travel rules are equally loose and generous, but leaders there sniffed that their chamber doesn't need an overhaul. Considering the political climate around the country, they might want to reconsider.

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