The Senate's Frequent Fliers

April 30, 1994

As the chart from Congressional Quarterly below shows, Congress is usually unpopular with the American public. Even in 1974, the Year of Watergate and public outrage at the presidency, slightly less than half of Americans approved of Congress. Last month the figure was 29 percent. It will probably go down the next time pollsters ask, the public having been reminded so blatantly of congressional imperiousness by the Senate's voting to keep its free airport parking.

Free airport parking is a small matter. It only costs taxpayers about $1.6 million a year in lost revenue, according to Sen. John McCain, the Arizona Republican who led the effort to do away with the free parking. That's peanuts, by congressional standards. The total budget for Senate, House and their supporting agencies is about two and a quarter billion dollars a year.

But the airport parking is important because it symbolizes the way members of Congress pamper themselves and give themselves political advantages at taxpayer expense. The reason they want free parking at the airport is so they can fly home on weekends to tell voters what a good job they're doing. Senators once were limited as to the number of free trips home they could take. Not any more. Many do it almost every week. And they get frequent flier miles to boot.

Senators know how the public feels about all this. Look at the vote. Senators not running for re-election this year voted against Senator McCain, 49-22. Senators running for re-election voted with Senator McCain, 22-4. (Sen. Barbara Mikulski, who is not running in 1994, voted for free parking; Sen. Paul Sarbanes, who is, voted against it.) Try explaining that to voters.

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