Day 6: Washington, DC – Visit to the Senate then back to Calgary

Visited the Senate to learn more about that chamber operates, and in particular, more about the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. Though lots of legislatures may claim to be bicameral, the US Congress truly is. I got a lesson in how bills get generated and pass through committees and on through the Senate and House of Representatives – or perhaps more accurately, how bills don’t get passed. From an outsider’s perspective, it sounds like an exercise in futility at times when different bills addressing the same issue are winding through separate processes in the House and Senate at the same time. I was told a good rule of thumb – if something passes through the Senate, chances are high it will pass through the House of Representatives, which has a lower threshold for passing bills into law.

That said, there seems to be a general sense that politics in the Beltway are becoming more polarized. It wasn’t always this way. If you’ve read Ronald Reagan’s autobiography, you may recall him talking about how his relationship with then-Democratic House Leader Tip O’Neill. O’Neill would give the President what for in public, but they were “friends after 6 pm.” It sounds like bipartisan compromise – in private or otherwise – has become a relic of the past.

I also learned that the Senate building has horrendous cell phone reception when I tried to call into Dave Rutherford’s show. I could hear him clear as a bell, but I gather it was not the same on his end. Apologies to those who were listening in.

The next meeting was with the online newspaper Politico. As a former member of the media it warms my heart to see a news outlet devoted to serious news coverage that is increasing staff rather than chopping it. Politico has grown from 50 staff to 200 staff in its 6 years of operation. They have a completely different business model that most newspapers. Traditional newspapers are print editions that have an online component. Politico is an online newspaper that has a print component. They publish in real time online and a print version 5 days a week when Congress is in session (109 days this year) and 3 days a week when they are out of session. It seems to be working for them.

In discussion of the news du jour, Romney’s 47% controversy is of course dominating the cycle. The journalist we spoke with said if he had to call the election today, he’d guess that Obama would win a second term. If the election turns on issues – the ballot question being who is best able to lead the country forward on the economy – Romney should have the edge. The journalist we spoke with said he has never seen a president get reelected when unemployment is above 8 per cent. But he also acknowledged that Romney faces an uphill battle defeating an historic president such as Obama. He believes Americans are very proud of what Obama’s presidency says to the world about their maturity as a country and if the election turns on this – Obama clearly has the edge. To  my way of thinking it is way too early to call – 7 weeks is a loooooooooong  time until election day – particularly since I’ve discovered how many voters make up their  minds in the last 48 hours.

I’m missing a day in Maryland to fly home for Peter Lougheed’s funeral. I saw former MLA and former Senator Ron Ghitter in the Ronald Reagan National Airport on the same flight as me, heading back to Alberta for the same purpose. I said hello and expressed my condolences – I told him I bet he had a lot of memories about our former Premier and he agreed.

Expenses: Since it was coming up in the comments section on my Facebook page I’ll keep repeating this background from my Day 2 post.

If you didn’t read the press release for this trip, no doubt you might be wondering, who’s paying for this trip? Here’s the answer. The costs are covered by the US Department of State, and they estimate the expense at $9,080 US for the 21-day program. With politicians’ travel expenses very much in the news lately, I thought you’d be interested in knowing my expenses as we go.

I have always said that international travel is an important part of the Premier’s job and, as Official Opposition Leader and International and Intergovernmental Affairs and Aboriginal Relations Critic, I think it is a necessary part of my job too. My criticism has not been about the fact that the Premier and her ministers are taking international trips, it’s the eye-popping price tag associated with them. You’ll notice this trip budgets out at about $432/day, whereas most ministeral trips lately have been costing in the range of $2000/person/day (or more). This one day of mine goes over $2,000 because it includes my round trip flight back to Calgary and the bill from the Churchill Hotel when I checked out.

Here are my expenses for today and to date:

$8.00     Breakfast at the Chartwell Grill

$3.25     Metro ticket

$38.00   Taxis (including taxi to airport)

$9.57    Lunch at Ahra Cafe

$9.54     Dinner at Tim Hortons

$760.00     Checkout of Churchill Hotel (4 nights at $190/night)

$52.00     Baggage charge

$1192.38    Round trip Washington-Calgary/ Calgary to New Orleans

$2072.74     Total for the day

$2948.87     Total to date