Sometimes, lawmakers travel courtesy of outside interests. These must be fully reported. In August, for instance, freshman Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Atwater, Calif., joined other lawmakers in a trip to Israel funded by the American Israel Education Foundation. Denham's week-long trip cost the foundation $20,227, records show.
The foundation, allied with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, is one of the most aggressive sponsors of foreign travel. Last August alone, the foundation paid for travel to Israel by 81 members of Congress.
"We must continue our strong friendship with Israel, our strongest democratic ally in the Middle East, and we must take seriously any threats from rogue states in the region as they threaten the future of democracy in the war torn region," Denham states in the Foreign Affairs section of his congressional web site.
Other trips are sponsored by congressional leaders or by individual congressional committees. All told, House and Senate members and their staff spend about $13 million a year on official foreign travel and visit more than 120 countries annually, according to a tally by the Congressional Research Service.
In November, for instance, records show that retiring Rep. Dennis Cardoza, D-Merced, Calif., spent a week traveling through Panama, Peru, Colombia, El Salvador and Guatemala.
Cardoza, who announced his retirement in October, was one of four Californians on the November trip, led by the chairman of the House Rules Committee, Rep. David Dreier, R-San Dimas. He also had joined the Israel trip in April.
In early January, Nunes will join House Speaker John Boehner and five other House Republicans on a leadership-sponsored congressional delegation traveling to Brazil, Colombia and Mexico. They'll be talking with foreign officials and others about trade agreements, anti-drug efforts and security issues.
Another form of congressional travel is sponsored directly by a committee. In February, for instance, records show the House Agriculture Committee sponsored Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno, Calif., on a three-day trip to Austria. The trip cost $4,622.04.
It's interesting. US lawmakers in both parties seem to spend an awful lot of time outside the US. They have plenty of time to do so, considering the House spent less than half the days of 2011 in session, and some of those 160 or so days has sessions that were just minutes long.
Trips paid for by lobbyist groups? Sure, they have to be reported, but everyone does it...so what does it matter?
Just something to think about next time.