Finally, some bipartisan agreement this election cycle: both parties are now attacking first-class travel “perks.” So, will we see congressional members forfeit their travel perks any time soon? Probably not.
The theme arising in the fights for a handful of contested U.S. House seats is that incumbent congresspersons voted to give themselves “first-class” plane flights. What’s really going on here?
Both Parties Hate First-Class Plane Travel…
We previously showed you this strategy in this ad from Michigan 1st Congressional District Democrat Jerry Cannon, highlighting his time in the air during the Vietnam War, while lumping his opponent in with “members of Congress” who “fly first-class on the taxpayers’ dime.” The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) produced the ad, “First Class,” to help Illinois 13th Congressional District challenger, Democrat Ann Callis, take on Representative Rodney Davis, who, according to the ad, “cares more about first-class than the middle class.”
Yet, the DCCC’s Republican counterpart, the National Republican Congressional Committee, is making the same argument. In the race for California’s 7th Congressional District, voters have been told that Democratic Representative Ami Bera has been “voting for first-class airfare and special perks … he helps himself, not us.”
And in New York’s 24th Congressional District, the same charge is used to claim that “Washington comes first” for Representative Dan Maffei.
There are variations on the theme. The Democrat’s version reminds voters that congresspersons kept this “perk” even during the government shutdown, suggesting that they were playing by a different set of rules than the rest of the government. The Republican version links the charge to claims that Democrats voted to raise energy taxes for everyone else, suggesting they want free travel while they increase the cost of travel for everyone else.
…Or Do They?
The truth is each congressperson gets a travel budget to spend as they see fit. The optics of this can rankle voters, and in recent years, both parties have thrown in riders to their budget proposals that would ban using congressional travel budgets for first-class travel. (The ban wouldn’t save any taxpayer money, because the travel budgets would remain the same.) Then, when the opposing party votes against the entire budget, political consultants can concoct ads saying the incumbent voted for keeping first-class perks.
These budgets have not become law, keeping the “perks” issue alive. In fact, when a trio of congresspersons who voted against both parties’ budgets—thus leaving themselves especially vulnerable to the “first-class” charge—drafted a separate law to ban first-class flights, they couldn’t get it past the key House Rules Committee for a floor vote.
The whole hypocritical travel perks affair has earned both party campaign committees a “Four Pinocchios” rating from the Washington Post‘s “Fact Checker.” Unfortunately, most voters don’t read fact-check articles, and most voters are inclined to believe the worst about Congress. So, both parties continue to use the same attack in the hope that their spin on it will take out more of the other party’s incumbents than their own. That’s Washington logic for you.