PoliGraph: GOP hit on Nolan doesn’t achieve lift-off

In politics, campaigning never ends, even when the next election is more than a year away.

Take this recent email sent by the National Republican Congressional Committee, a political committee that supports Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives.

It claims that 8th District U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan voted to protect first-class travel for lawmakers.

“Congress is back in session this week, which means Rick Nolan is back from his recess,” the email states. “Makes you wonder: Is Nolan flying first-class? After all, he voted to protect first-class travel for himself and his colleagues recently.”

This NRCC claim is misleading at best.

The Evidence

To support its claim, the NRCC points to Nolan’s vote against the Republican budget proposal written by Budget Chair Paul Ryan, R- WI.

On page 87 of the 91 page plan, which covers a wide range of spending issues, is a prohibition on lawmakers buying first class airfare or leasing charter planes with taxpayer money.

Nolan’s spokesman Steve Johnson said his boss voted against the Republican budget because it made major changes to Medicare, made cuts to Medicaid and repealed the new health care law, among other things, not because of this specific provision.

Nolan certainly wasn’t an outlier in his vote against the bill, either. All House Democrats opposed the bill. Meanwhile, nearly all House Republicans voted for it.

Johnson said that Nolan has not flown first class since he took office, and he hasn’t chartered a private plane.

That said, there’s nothing in the House Members’ Handbook that prohibits lawmakers from using their Member’s Representational Allowance – the money they are given to pay for travel, office supplies and staff, among other things – from flying first class to and from their districts or from chartering an airplane so long as it constitutes official business and meets other basic requirements.

The rules are different when it comes to campaign events and when a member of Congress is asked to travel for a private event, for instance.

The Verdict

This claim is misleading. It’s technically true that Nolan voted against a new rule that would have prevented lawmakers from using their allowances to buy first class airfare or from chartering planes.

But that’s just one line in a nearly 100-page document that deals with much broader budget issues, and it’s not the reason he voted against the proposal.


Congressional Research Service, Congressional Salaries and Allowances, Ida A. Brudnick, January 15, 2013

Committee on House Administration, Members’ Handbook, accessed May 6, 2013

House Clerk, Roll Call on the GOP Budget, March 21, 2013

GOP Budget proposal, FY 2014