First-Class Cornyn Offers Weak Defense Of His Exorbitant Travel Costs: Texas Is A Big State

john-cornyn-webSen. John Cornyn (R-TX) has tried to portray himself as an upstanding lawmaker dedicated to fiscal restraint. He has frequently criticized “wasteful spending” in the federal government and even called President Obama’s spending plans “reckless.”

Last month, Politico published a chart illustrating the transportation costs from the offices of all 100 U.S. Senators. Topping off the list was Cornyn, who has spent over $150,000 on travel costs during the first half of the 2009 fiscal year.

When a local ABC News affiliate in Dallas (WFAA) asked him about his expensive travel habits, Cornyn called Politico’s report “a cheap shot.” The reporter then asked the obvious follow-up, “In what sense was it a cheap shot? They were using the Secretary of the Senate information?” However, Cornyn wouldn’t budge and instead decided to dig in:

CORNYN: Oh yeah, not every state is the same. When you represent a state as big as Texas and traveling home from Washington D.C. every weekend, it unfortunately costs some money.

The “Texas is a big state” defense seems plausible on its face, but the same records Politico reported show that Texas’s other U.S. Senator, Kay Bailey Hutchison (R), spent nearly 43 percent less on travel than Cornyn during the same period ($87,651).

Moreover, California Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), who represent a state similar to Texas in size and population (and one that’s further away from Washington, DC), spent less than Cornyn on travel combined (Boxer $72,473; Feinstein $29,917; Total $102,390).

But also, WFAA reports that Cornyn and his staff spent more than $55,000 in taxpayer money on a three day retreat to St. Michaels, MD in February and that “a third of the costs, $17,353, was Cornyn’s alone”:

He was reimbursed for $7,750 in incidentals. The senator’s per diem, a daily allowance, was $5,226 for the three-day trip. For a 162-mile, round-trip journey from Washington, D.C., transportation to get the senator to Maryland cost taxpayers $4,377.66.

Referring to Cornyn’s defense, watchdog group Public Citizen’s Tom Smith said, “I agree senator. It is a big state, and most big cities where he’s spending most of his time have real good airline service. He should be flying coach with the rest of us.”

Cornyn said he does fly commercial but admitted that he also takes more expensive charter jets. When asked if he would “change anything” regarding his travel expenses, Cornyn replied, “No, I wouldn’t. I believe the travel I do is essential.”