Does House Speaker Tom Foley need a jet?
Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Wash., a close Foley ally, says he does, and added that he hoped "people would take into account that the president has a plane, the vice president has a plane and the speaker should have a plane."
To that end a House-Senate conference committee has approved a Defense Department appropriations bill that would require that a C-20 aircraft be available at Andrews Air Force Base near Washington at all times just for the speaker's use. The $20 million aircraft, which can carry up to 14 people, would come from the Air Force's existing inventory of C-20s.
Defenders of the plan say it only formalizes a gentleman's agreement to furnish the speaker a plane on request. Critics, and the rest of the country, should be asking why?
Why does the speaker of the House need a plane ready and waiting? Why can't most of his travel and the travel of other members of Congress be done on commercial airlines? Why should American taxpayers foot the bill for what appears to be such an extravagant waste of manpower and machinery?
The other question, of course, is why does the speaker travel so much that he needs his own plane? If he's just running around on political junkets, the taxpayers might come closer to getting their money's worth if he just stayed on the job in Washington.
If the speaker needs a plane, he'd better get in line. There are a lot of things America is in more serious need of than a $20 million private jet for its top legislator.