Flying Down to Rio

December 29, 1993

Congress members have the best jobs. They get a two-month Christmas vacation. The first session of the 103rd Congress ended Nov. 26. The second session resumes on Jan. 25. This beats every college we know about.

Many members used this time for travel. Not home, minding the store, chatting up the constituents or bringing in the winter supply of firewood. Rather, abroad, broadening their minds, sophisticating up to their responsibilities.

About a dozen House members flew to Geneva to observe the GATT talks. Rep. Dan Rostenkowski and his fellow travelers are the unsung heroes. Had they not been watching, the world diplomats would have come back empty-handed.

Five members of the Senate Intelligence Committee flew to the Middle East. That did wonders for the nation's intelligence. Now if somebody talks airily about Lebanon or Kuwait, the Senate Intelligence Committee will be able to locate them on a map in a flash.

Sen. Paul Simon led members of the Senate Foreign Relations Africa committee through a passel of African countries. No favoritism here. East Africa and West Africa show up equally on the itinerary. Your average ignorant American may think Mali is an exotic South Pacific island. Not so your members of the Senate Foreign Relations Africa committee. Been there.

The House Appropriations defense subcommittee is going in January to all the hot spots where American service people are in harm's way. The GIs have less chance of getting hit by a Serbian or Somali sniper if they are looking after the House Appropriations defense subcommittee.

House Majority Leader Richard Gephardt and some House buddies are going to Indonesia, Thailand, China and Hong Kong. Mr. Gephardt fought NAFTA to the bitter end and he is going as far from Mexico as the U.S. Air Force can arrange.

That's the catch. The Air Force has to fly these people. Departing Defense Secretary Les Aspin was meaning to bequeath to the nation a military capable of fighting two major regional wars simultaneously. That's wishful thinking. One regional micro-war and a congressional winter solstice vacation is more like it.

If his successor expects to bomb nuclear sites in North Korea, he or she will have to wait until every last Congress member is safely back home and out of trouble. Meanwhile, the world's bad guys know they have until Jan. 25 to thumb their nose at Uncle Sam. The Air Force will be too busy ferrying Congress members to notice.

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