Members of Congress should take trips that benefit public

Sure, they still might get some heat -- but that, too, is part of the job.

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Members of Congress can't do their jobs from behind a desk. They need to get out.

And when they do travel for business -- the public's business -- the taxpayers should foot the bill, right? Absolutely, if the trip can be justified.

Yet, U.S. Rep. Brian Baird, D-Wash., is feeling a bit picked on after the Wall Street Journal and the TV show "Inside Edition" did stories on an 11-day trip that he and nine other members of Congress took to the Galapagos Islands and the South Pole.

"Inside Edition" called it "the trip of a lifetime on your dime." The Wall Street Journal reported the lawmakers and some of their spouses went driving and snorkeling at the Great Barrier Reef, rode a cable car through the Australian rain forest and visited a penguin breeding ground. The group also made a stop in Hawaii during the South Pole trip that was said to cost $103,000 not including the flight aboard an Air Force plane, the Journal reported.

The trip does sound like it was a lot of fun, which is why Baird and the others are getting heat.

"I'm in a real bind here," Baird, chairman of the House Energy and Environmental Subcommittee, told The Associated Press. "I think I have a responsibility to know about the oceans, for the good of our country. But if these kinds of articles are going to try to make an impression that I am just going on vacation, then I can't do it anymore. And then a passionate voice on behalf of the world's oceans is effectively going to be silenced."

What? The only person silencing Baird is Baird.

Few would dispute that it makes sense for the chairman of an environmental subcommittee to see first hand that part of the world. It gives a depth of understanding of the issues that can only be gained by being there.

However, some of the other aspects of the trip -- the fun stuff as well as bringing spouses along -- might well be a waste of tax dollars. Then again, that too could be justified depending on the circumstances.

Instead of getting so defensive and sounding so wounded, Baird need only explain why the trip was necessary.

Baird did that when he called international travel important for a member of Congress. He added that it would be a "tragedy" if such trips had to be curtailed.

�Baird told the Journal the South Pole trip was "more valuable than 100 hearings."

�"Are there members of Congress who take trips somewhat recreationally?" he added. "Perhaps. Is this what this trip was about? Absolutely not."

�Sure, Baird and the others are still going to get heat, but that's too be expected. Every high-profile public official is going to be criticized unfairly. It takes the skin of a rhino to serve in Congress.

If Baird can't take a few jabs -- fair or unfair -- he ought to look for another line of work.

And if he is going to stay on the job he needs to do that job -- including taking trips on the public's dime assuming, of course, they can be justified.�

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