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Summer boondoggles supported by taxpayers

Are you taking your family to the beach this summer? Maybe you went to see the blockbuster of the summer, “Jurassic World”? But chances are you won’t be jaunting around Italy and checking into Kiev on an all-expenses paid trip.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi is in Italy on the taxpayers’ dime, along with six other Democratic lawmakers. The congressional delegation (CODEL) will also visit Ukraine.

A note posted on Pelosi’s official Twitter page early Friday morning said, “Welcomed to Italy by Pres. Sergio Mattarella for a productive meeting on continuing the strong U.S.-Italy alliance.” The post included a picture of Pelosi, a California Democrat, and Mattarella shaking hands in greeting.

The trip is intended to zero in on security and economic issues between the U.S. and Italy. Specifically, the trip will include meetings with Italian officials in Rome as well as military leaders at the headquarters of the U.S. Naval Forces Europe and Africa and the Allied Joint Forces Command. In Kiev, the purpose of the Democrats’ meeting with Ukranian leaders is a little less clear, but could include the topic of Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

Congressional delegation trips abroad – as well as members’ air travel costs within the U.S. – are routinely funded by U.S. taxpayers for both Democrats and Republicans. A bipartisan trip is also scheduled this August to Israel.

Many trips use military aircraft, making their costs difficult to determine because the Defense Department, not Congress, pays the tab.

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Trips by House members must all be approved by House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio. However, many trips use military aircraft, making their costs difficult to determine because the Defense Department, not Congress, pays the tab. It is also legal for overseas congressional trips to be funded by foreign interests, making their true costs even more hidden.

A North Carolina Republican lawmaker, Walter Jones, filed a bill in 2013 to require more transparency of the costs. Jones managed to attach it to a DOD spending bill, but it was removed before final passage.

Summer is particularly an attractive time for congressional time off. The House adjourned for a summer recess on Wednesday until Sept. 8, while the Senate will adjourn sometime next week until Sept. 14. President Obama also is planning a two-week vacation to Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts, as in prior years.

Congress’s annual workloads have dwindled in recent years. The House was in session for an average of 137 days each year since 2001, according to the Library of Congress, but only met for 112 days last year. The Senate has followed a similar pattern – the upper chamber only met for 136 days last year.

The average American, by contrast, works about 260 days each year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Personnel Management.

The average American, by contrast, works about 260 days each year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Personnel Management.

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest slammed House Republicans earlier in the week for their 39-day August recess, noting that GOP leaders left a large pile of unfinished work.

“I do hope that Republicans will just rest and relax during their 39-day vacation, because when they do finally show up again in September, there won’t be a lot of patience or a lot of sympathy that they don’t have time to do their job,” Earnest said.

Several comments posted to Pelosi’s Twitter feed Friday morning were critical of the Italy trip, suggesting it went beyond the pale.

“Is this suppose(d) to make us think you’re working hard and sacrificing for us? Really?” wrote one follower identified as Id4america. “Hope you enjoyed the site (sic) seeing and of course your expensive hotel room.”

Details, duration and cost estimates for Pelosi’s congressional trip were not available. A spokesman did not respond to several calls for comment.

Pelosi is a native of Baltimore. She is an Italian-American whose ancestors are from Naples and Genoa, Italy. With her on the trip are Democratic Reps. David Cicilline of Rhode Island, Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut, Anna Eshoo of California, Chellie Pingree of Maine, Cedric Richmond of Louisiana and Marc Veasey of Texas.

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