As sequester looms, Jones demands cap on congressional travel overseas

Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.) is calling for new restrictions on congressional visits overseas that would ban House members from taking federally funded trips outside the United States unless members are visiting U.S. forces stationed in an active war zone.

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In light of the $500 billion in across-the-board budget cuts facing the Pentagon and the services under sequestration, military leaders should not have to spend those limited dollars shuttling lawmakers around the world on House business, he said in a letter sent to Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) on Tuesday that was obtained by The Hill.

"If sequestration goes into effect, I urge you to announce ... that either you or any House committee chairs will be approving any overseas trips for members of the House of Representatives," Jones wrote.

Congressional delegations, or CODELs, to Afghanistan and elsewhere around the world are usually coordinated by the Pentagon or State Department and financed by federal funds set aside specifically for such trips.

When in an active war zone or any other military operation, lawmakers and their staffs are regularly transported by military aircraft and receive security details from U.S. forces on the ground. When in a foreign country on House business, those same amenities are provided from State Department coffers.

But only House leadership and committee chiefs have authority to approve a lawmaker's request to travel overseas with either U.S. military or diplomatic corps.

That said, the defense reductions under sequestration, according to Jones, will have an "unacceptable impact" on the Defense Department and armed services.

Defense Department officials already have measures in place, from issuing furloughs to its 800,000-man civilian workforce to putting off vital repair work to key weapons systems and aircraft, to pay for cuts under sequestration set to go in place on Friday.

"If sequestration is implemented ... DOD simply cannot afford to continue these trips," according to the letter.

By limiting the number of CODELs taken by House members to "exotic locations" around the world, Jones wants to make clear lawmakers on Capitol Hill understand sequestration's impact and are doing something about it.

"Taking this action would communicate to the American people and the military that the House ... recognizes the seriousness of the fiscal times we're in, and that it will adjust its behavior accordingly," Jones wrote.