Philip Maddocks: Congress to celebrate bipartisan accord on recent scandals with lavish, taxpayer-funded trip to Cartagena

Philip Maddocks

Drawn together in its collective outrage at the irresponsible behavior of Secret Service agents and General Services Administration officials, Congress is planning to celebrate its newfound bon ami with an extravagant, taxpayer-funded trip to Cartagena in May.

“I hear it’s beautiful this time of year,” said Rep. Peter King of New York, a Republican who heads the House Homeland Security Committee.

Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, the senior Republican on the Senate Homeland Security Committee who has been briefed on the planned congressional vacation, said a total of more than 500 U.S. representatives and senators have signed up for the taxpayer-subsidized jaunt that is expected to include Petit Beef Wellington, thousands of sushi rolls, mind readers and a “Corner Legislative Office Furnishing Project” designed as a “team-building” exercise.

After years of strident partisan bickering, members of the House and Senate have suddenly found common ground, relishing in the bonding and backslapping power of a scandal that doesn’t involve one of their own.

Indeed, with lawmakers high-fiving one another in the hallways and engaging in friendly give and takes in the so-called “tolerance zones” located throughout the Capitol Rotunda, it’s hard to imagine that only a month ago this was a hostilely divided legislative body seemingly without common ground.

But now the talk in the House cafeterias is not of freedom fries but of the mini-Monte Cristo sandwiches that will be served on the flight to Cartagena. And there is giddy conversation in the Senate chamber of possibly making numerous trips beforehand to the Columbian seaside tourist destination to test the general magnificence of the city as a spot for an utterly profligate Congressional debauch.

Lawmakers were busy this week making videos congratulating themselves for the legislative actions taken in the wake of allegations that Secret Service agents preparing for President Obama’s arrival at an international summit meeting in Columbia brought prostitutes back to their hotel rooms in Cartagena and that the General Services Administration spent $822,000 in taxpayer money to fly 300 bureaucrats to a luxurious spa and casino outside Las Vegas for a conference in October 2010.

“We know these scandals aren’t going to last forever, so we might as well enjoy them while we can,” said Rep. Charles Rangel of New York, who admitted he may do some apartment hunting during the deliberative body’s vacation in Columbia.

As members of Congress reveled in their own company late into the night on Thursday, forming a conga line and belting out “Sweet Cartagena” to the melody of Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline,” it was hard to imagine that anything could break their kinship.

“There is nothing that brings this body together like talking in detail about prostitutes and shameless spending,” Ms. Collins pointed out as she sipped a Columbian-inspired cocktail with vodka, blue Curacao, grenadine, lime juice and orange juice. “I’m looking forward to carrying on this conversation well after we hit the ground in Cartagena.”

Outside in the Rose Garden, Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Senate minority leader, and Harry Reid of Nevada, the Senate majority leader, embraced warmly as Eric Cantor, the House majority leader, looked on, his eyes tearing up.

“This is not how Washington works, but just look at us,” said another onlooker, an emotional Darrell Issa, a representative of California.

The only way his life would be made more complete, said Mr. Issa, is if his stay in Cartagena includes a hotel room with a view of a golf course.

“If Darrel doesn’t get that room with a view,” said House Speaker John Boehner, savoring a Pielroja brand cigarette as he gently consoled Mr. Issa, “then we might have to threaten to shut down the government until he does. … Only kidding.”

Philip Maddocks is a political satire columnist for GateHouse News Service. He can be reached at