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Down-to-earth ethics

Senators should follow the House's example and ban travel by members on corporate planes.

January 10, 2007

THE SENATE prides itself on being different than the "other body" -- the more plebian and poll-driven House of Representatives. But do members of the World's Greatest Deliberative Body really want to define themselves by their greater willingness to hop aboard a corporate jet?

You might think so, judging from the rumblings from senators unhappy about the pressure to follow the ethically energized House in banning travel by members on corporate planes

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who chairs the Rules Committee, worried in an interview with The Times that prohibiting such hitchhiking, or making it too costly -- such as requiring senators to pay a charter rate -- "would make it very difficult for many members to get to, and around, their states on a timely basis."

Feinstein does support publicizing senators' trips on corporate jets. But in this case, disclosure isn't an adequate remedy for the reality and the appearance of cuddling up to special interests. And although Feinstein's objections may be rooted in a concern about responsiveness to constituents, that's not the only reason senators like to fly corporate.

"Why do you think there's resistance?" Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) asked, and then provided the answer: "Because corporate jets are nice.... They're convenient. They're waiting for you. You don't have to take your shoes off."

We don't know whether he took his shoes off, but according to a watchdog group, Senate Minority Whip Trent Lott (R-Miss.) was a frequent flier on corporate jets from 2001 to 2005, spending $165,724 to "reimburse" the planes' owners at the commercial rate. Under a proposal backed by Obama and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), senators flying on corporate planes would have to pay the much steeper charter rate -- a requirement that reformers think would discourage the practice.

The charter option, which we have endorsed in the past, would be a major improvement. Even better would be an outright ban on senators accepting lifts on corporate planes.

The Senate apparently isn't afraid of being accused of "me-tooism" when it comes to matching the House on other ethics reforms, such as refusing to accept gifts from lobbyists. It should be equally open to emulating the "other body" on this issue. Straighten up and fly right, senators.

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