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In its Dec. 7 editorial about congressional travel, The News points a wagging finger at those who travel outside the United States.

In our office, we encourage people to circulate, not sit around Washington -- to find out what's happening firsthand. I assume The News prefers to have its reporters go to the scene, not rely on reports from others to write their stories.

The News suggests that by taking sponsored, organized educational trips, we are somehow struck blind to the bias of our hosts. Our staff members are experts in their fields. Just as a reporter uses a variety of sources, so do we seek a balanced perspective.

But why force us continually to defend trips which the Ethics Committee has approved, and which have been reported in public filings? The larger story is captured in the Dec. 8 editions of the Washington Post: "On Trade, U.S. Retreating Into Globalphobia."

The front-page story details the very real concern of many experts in international affairs that America is becoming dangerously parochial, "increasingly isolationist, protectionist and nationalistic in its economic affairs."

"This is a period of unparalleled lack of understanding and interest in international economic matters," complained Ardon Judd, who for 28 years has been a lobbyist for Dresser Industries Inc. "You don't seem to have the appreciation of the importance of U.S. actions on the world scene."

Whether we like it or not, we are part of the world economy. Dozens of businesses in my congressional district are either part-owned by foreign firms or depend upon them for significant export revenues. That means jobs.

Those of us who forge international policies should not do all this from the safety of our Washington offices. If one travels, and travel is expensive, somebody has to pay for it. I pay for my own. Few people can do this. I think it would be unfortunate to establish that approach as public policy. I have also paid part of my staff's expenses, but the rest has to be picked up by either public or private funds.

Some complain when we use public funds. I don't happen to agree with this mind-set; but no matter, that is the attitude out there. So this leaves private funds.

There is a difference, in case anyone misses the point, between being influenced and being compromised, between service and self-service.

If the United States is going to pose as the major power left in this world, a beacon for others to follow, we all must be able without embarrassment to find out what the rest of the world thinks.

I cannot speak for my fellow members of Congress. But I personally feel that The News did a great disservice in its editorial to those of us who want to help lead this special country of ours with dignity and integrity into the unsettled world of the third millennium.

Amo Houghton
House of Representatives
Washington, D.C.