Thursday, August 16, 2007

Memo to Congress : Time to Re-write that Ethics Bill

My Fellow Americans,
Did you know that Halliburton has announced that they will move their corporate headquarters to Dubai ?
Would you think that it would be appropriate for 21 members of Congress to take a sponsored-paid trip to see Dubai ?
What if all 21 members were Republicans ?
What if the week later 18 Democrats went there ?
What if 16 of these Congressmen were new members ?

Good news, to the best of my knowledge, Halliburton is not paying for Congressional trips to Dubia. But that doesn’t mean that they aren’t traveling on someone else’s dime.
Last week, 21 Republicans including four Freshman (Bachmann, Bilirakis, Buchanan, and Fallin) went on a privately funded trip sponsored by the America Israel Education Federation (AIEF) . The visit included meetings with chairman of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, Palestinian prime minister, Salam Fayad as well as Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Foreign Minister Ehud Barak, and other officials, including Bank of Israel chief American immigrant Stanley Fischer.
Today, 18 Democrats including twelve first-term Congressmen are currently on a paid trip to visit the same people.

Now, I do not object that the Congressmen are going. In fact, I think that it is necessary that they visit the region. I have written before about the importance of addressing Syrian-Lebanese situation here , here , and here . These Representatives should also take the time to visit King Abdullah of Jordan and Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian president. Those two leaders are highly vested in their areas … especially Jordan which has had an influx of refugees from Iraq.

My objections are fourfold.

Why is it split by political party?
--- Is this part of a ‘divide and conquer’ strategy? Is this designed so that presentations may be slanted one way for one party and another way for the other party? Do they not want one party to hear something ? With all the divisiveness between the parties, why couldn’t this trip be used to generate some positive bonding? Sending so many members together make not be a good security decision. Any attack by terrorists (or even malfunctions of airplanes, etc.) could impact the House severely.

Why are the US taxpayers NOT paying for this trip?
--- Shouldn’t Congress be visiting countries based on OUR agenda and NEEDS and not as ‘paid guests’? The US reputation in the Middle East to many Muslims is anti-Arab and pro-Israel. By accepting paid trips, Congress is reinforcing that opinion.

How should the AIEF, which is the charitable arm of the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), be distinguished between its lobbying parent ? AIPAC is recognized as the second most powerful lobby in Washington. AIPAC has a staff of 200 lobbyists, researchers and organizers; a $47 million annual budget; 100,000 grass-roots members; and a recruitment drive on 300 college campuses. AIPAC does not donate monies directly to political campaigns, but advises its members which Congress members ‘support’ Israel. Between the 2000 and the 2004 elections, the 50 members of AIPAC's board donated an average of $72,000 each to campaigns and political action committees --- how much the average member gave is unknown.
In some ways, this sounds to like a “time-share vacation” --- go and hear a sales pitch and enjoy the weekend --- the difference is that after the Congressman comes home, he/she not only got the fun weekend, he/she get political contributions for the next campaign.

Why are there so many Freshman invited ?
When 40% of the attendees are first term Representatives that appears to be an indoctrination session for Israeli / America relations. These new Freshman members will vote on the $30 billion increase in military aid which the Bush administration plans to commit itself over the next 10 years. And AIPAC knows how to play hardball. Just ask Minnesota Congresswoman Betty McCollum who was targeted by AIPAC despite her solid pro-Israel voting record when she had opposed one bill in committee that AIPAC wanted approved.

With the time remaining in George Bush’s presidency, the best chance that he has for a foreign policy success relies on his Roadmap toward a Two State solution. Tony Blair did not undertake this mission without feeling that he could get something accomplished. Our Congress needs to be involved … but on our dime and our terms.

The latest Congressional legislation regarding ethics may have made some steps forward, but these trips indicate that they need to go further.

The members who are scheduled to attend these sessions are :
Republican mission:

Michele Bachmann *(MN), Gresham Barrett (SC), Roscoe Bartlett (MD), Gus Bilirakis *(FL), Vernon Buchanan *(FL), Eric Cantor (VA), Michael Conaway (TX), Geoff Davis (KY), Charlie Dent (PA), Mary Fallin *(OK), Trent Franks (AZ), Louie Gohmert (TX), Bob Goodlatte (VA), Doc Hastings (WA), Jack Kingston (GA), Doug Lamborn (CO), Patrick McHenry (NC), Devin Nunes (CA), Jean Schmidt (OH), Mark Souder (IN), Lynn Westmoreland (GA).

Democratic mission:

Jason Altmire *(PA), Shelley Berkley (NV), Steve Cohen *(TN), Joseph Crowley (NY), Keith Ellison *(MN), Gabrielle Giffords *(AZ), Gene Green (TX), Phil Hare *(IL), Paul Hodes *(NH), Steny Hoyer (MD), Nick Lampson *(TX), Tim Mahoney *(FL), Jerry McNerney *(CA), Patrick Murphy *(PA), Michael Ross (AR), Albio Sires *(NJ), John Tanner (TN), John Yarmuth *(KY).

* indicates Freshman Representatives.

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