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Thu, Feb 08, 2007

Lawmakers Irked Over Pelosi's Request For Larger Plane

New House Speaker Says She Needs Nonstop Transcontinental Flights

Washington lawmakers are steamed over the Bush administration's plans to provide House Speaker Nancy Pelosi with access to an Air Force passenger jet. The reasons go beyond the usual political wrangling and rhetoric, however... or at least, so they say.

The Washington Times reports Pelosi requested access to any one of three larger planes currently in use for government transport. The Bush Administration agreed to grant the new House Speaker access to the USAF fleet, maintained by the 89th Airlift Wing at Andrews Air Force Base, though negotiations are still underway as to what type and size of aircraft Pelosi will be able to use.

Opponents to the plan aren't necessarily criticizing Pelosi for wanting access to the fleet -- it's a common "perk" available to Capitol Hill lawmakers -- but rather Pelosi's assertion she needs regular access to the larger, VIP-level aircraft she says she needs to travel nonstop from Washington, DC to her home district in California.

Republican Conference Chairman Adam Putnam of Florida told the Times Pelosi's request amounts to "an arrogance of office that just defies common sense." He added such access would be "a major deviation from the previous speaker."

Former House Speaker Dennis Hastert used a smaller C-20B (a variant of the Gulfstream III) to travel to and from his district in Illinois; prior to 9/11, the House Speaker usually flew on the airlines. In addition to smaller jets, a C-32, C-40B and C-37A -- military variants of the Boeing 757-200 (shown below) and 737-700, and Gulfstream V (above), respectively -- are available for longer-range flights by House personnel, or for trips requiring a large entourage.

Critics say Pelosi told the administration she needs the bigger planes not only because of the distance required, and the added security necessary during refueling stops... but also so she can take other congressional members, as well as family and staff, along for the ride.

One Defense Department source told the Times Pelosi's request amounted to "carte blanche" use of the larger aircraft, and the House Speaker wants privileges usually reserved for President Bush and Vice-President Dick Cheney. Cheney also travels on aircraft in the Andrews fleet; Bush, of course, uses one of two specially-equipped Boeing 747s.

"She's effectively taking a bird out of the fleet," said the unnamed source. "It will most directly impact the House, because they're the heavy users of the large aircraft. Congress looks at that Andrews fleet as their Hertz rent-a-car."

A Pelosi aide referred all questions on the matter to the Air Force, which is said to be studying the request along with lawyers at the Pentagon and the White House. A congressional source told the Times the speaker's office already asked for an Air Force plane to ferry her to a Democratic retreat in Virginia last weekend, but the request was denied.

North Carolina Congressman Patrick McHenry termed the speaker's request for a larger plane "Pelosi One." Several other Republican lawmakers made similar statements.

So, it's at least a little about politics.



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