Chabot back in the travel saddle

Congressman ends one-year drought with summertime swing through Eastern Europe

click to enlarge U.S. Rep. Steve Chabot, sitting at center of right side of table, and other members of Congress meeting with Czech Tech officials in Prague in August - Photo: Czech Technical University
Photo: Czech Technical University
U.S. Rep. Steve Chabot, sitting at center of right side of table, and other members of Congress meeting with Czech Tech officials in Prague in August

Ending an unusual yearlong hiatus from traveling abroad at taxpayer expense, U.S. Rep. Steve Chabot of Cincinnati resumed his globetrotting ways in August with a five-day trip to the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Slovenia.

Chabot, chairman of the House Small Business Committee, has tapped the federal travel spigot frequently during his 21-year stay in Congress. CityBeat peered into his travel expense disclosures last year and learned that he had taken 16 trips to 46 different countries since his return to Ohio’s 1st District seat in 2011.

As in most of those trips, Chabot had nothing to say publicly about his high-season mission to Eastern Europe — until CityBeat asked. The outing didn’t rate a mention in Chabot’s blog, on his Facebook page or in his press releases. It took his spokesman, Brian Griffith, to say what the Westwood Republican did during those five days.

Chabot, Griffith explains, meets government and business officials in other countries to “seek ways to make it easier for small businesses to export and how we can work with foreign governments to make that a reality.” The biggest hurdles to American companies selling goods abroad, he says, are tariffs and trade rules.

In Chabot’s role as a senior member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Griffith says, Chabot meets with U.S. and foreign officials abroad to “identify where there is common ground between nations and improvements to our relationships can be made.”

To that end, Chabot met with a variety of people on both sides in the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Slovenia. Griffith did not cite any trade logjams or political impasses that Chabot broke through with his diplomatic charms.

Another report came from the news service of Czech Technical University in Prague. There, Chabot and five other members of Congress met to discuss innovation, company startup support and commercialization of science and research in an academic environment.

How American small businesses might benefit wasn’t reported, but it was conveyed that the meeting “should contribute to cooperation in concrete projects and initiatives to promote innovation.”

For that, Chabot racked up a $13,289 bill. Since he was joined by his usual travel partner, Small Business Committee staff director Kevin Fitzpatrick, and fellow committee member Jenniffer Gonzalez-Colon of Puerto Rico, the overall committee tab came to $40,634. Members of Congress do not submit itemized travel expenses with receipts.

That last point rankles Stephen Ellis, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, a nonpartisan budget watchdog group in Washington, D.C.

“It is valuable and important for lawmakers to travel to better understand U.S. role in the world from a diplomacy, military and business standpoint,” he says. “But it’s also important that they be good stewards of taxpayer dollars and be transparent and accountable for how they spend those dollars.

“Spending decisions lawmakers make with the funds that are directly at their disposal are like a window into their budgetary soul,” Ellis says. “We’ve long held that all travel information should be publicly available. Then a lawmaker’s constituents can decide if they are operating in the public interest.”

Chabot’s House website says he “continues” to fight wasteful government spending. “He has consistently voted to eliminate wasteful spending and reduce the excessive tax burden on hard-working Americans,” it says.

CONTACT JAMES McNAIR at [email protected], 513-914-2736 or @jmacnews on Twitter

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