It was bad enough last month watching Washington politicians merrily flying off to the U.N. climate change Conference of Parties in Copenhagen (or COP-15 for short), ostensibly to draft a global warming treaty, when all the players knew that no meaningful pact would result and that the only sure outcome was that much energy would be squandered.
Now comes the sticker shock.
When CBS News reporter Sharyl Attkisson dug into the latest House expenses filing for the climate confab, she found that the cost for a hotel room for the congressional delegation of 15 Democratic and six Republican members of Congress and 38 staffers was $2,200 per person per day -- more than most Americans spend on their monthly mortgages. In addition, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other members flew on three military planes, at an estimated cost of $168,000. Many staffers, however, flew on commercial airlines, at fares ranging from $4,163 to $10,038.
The tab for the House delegation -- not including the military planes -- was $553,564. We still do not know the price tag for the 60-plus administration officials who, like President Barack Obama, attended the summit. Ditto the unknown bill for the two senators -- John Kerry, D-Mass., and James Inhofe, R-Okla. -- and 30-plus Senate aides.
I asked Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill about the $2,200-a-day tab. "We don't get to pick the hotel we stay in," he answered; the State Department picks hotels for congressional delegations, and it chose a five-star Marriott with a six-night minimum during the summit -- hence the $4,406-per-room tab for a 48-hour stay. My journalist pal Ola Tedin of Ystad, Sweden, suggested, "They would have found a better deal in Malmo, Sweden," where many attendees stayed. No, I am told, the delegation worked nonstop and didn't have time for the 35-minute train ride.
As for the airfares, Hammill explained they are "government rate." Government rate means that taxpayers fork over as much as $10,000 for a flight that could be purchased online for $800. "Government rate," then, is D.C.-speak for "money is no object."
No worries on the greenhouse gases spewed to fuel the trek. The House bought "offsets" for the journey's emissions. Of course, that very act explains why so many Americans have come to doubt global warming true believers: Their great crusade is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, yet they globe-trot to be seen with one another and produce meaningless pieces of paper. Then they tell others that their exhaust fumes don't stink because, like sinners purchasing indulgences, they offset their vapor trails -- with other people's money.
Surely the best "offset" would have been for more Democrats to stay home. And what were all those Republicans doing in Denmark? I get Inhofe's parachuting into enviro territory to serve, as he likes to style himself, as a one-senator "truth squad." Spokesman Matt Dempsey noted that Inhofe "would prefer not to go" to an event he has dismissed as "the biggest party of the year," but someone had to counter COP-15's cap-and-trade agenda.
Surely some (or, better yet, all) of the six GOP House members -- James Sensenbrenner, Joe Barton, Fred Upton, Shelley Moore Capito, John Sullivan and Marsha Blackburn -- and their 10 committee staffers could have stayed home.
It would have been a great photo op -- in contrast to all those global warming enthusiasts ducking from the blizzard that they flew thousands of miles to experience -- if House Republicans had held a low-carbon, low-cost Skeptics Summit in D.C. at which they announced their refusal to participate in a process that, if somehow magically successful, would be harmful to the U.S. economy.
So you have two sets of big spenders. There are the U.S. officials who were so busy being important at COP-15 that they couldn't be expected to think about saving taxpayer dollars, and there are the Republicans who generally opposed COP-15, but not enough to skip it.
The disconnect in this story doesn't end. Participants could have put together a nonbinding treaty to try to halve emissions in 40 years by phone or the Internet. But the circus always was more important than the cause.
And you paid for it.