Americans, ready to book vacations again, could be prime targets for scammers, and 2 senators want more protections for travelers

travel tourist bag airport vacation plane luggage
  • Rising vaccination rates means that tourism is on its way back – and so are travel scammers.
  • Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Steve Daines have called on the FTC to do more to protect travelers.
  • “It is critical to ensure that Americans understand how to recognize travel scams and their recourse options,” they wrote.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

With the travel industry poised to boom thanks to rising coronavirus vaccination rates, scammers could very well target would-be travelers in the coming months, spoiling many long-awaited vacations.

Two senators are calling on the Federal Trade Commission to do more to protect tourists from scammers, as travel is slated to spike along with coronavirus vaccination rates. United States Sens. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Steve Daines of Montana sent a letter to the FTC on Thursday asking the commission to bolster protections for travelers and expressing “concern” over reports detailing a proliferation of travel scams.

“While the FTC posts advisories pertaining to travel scams, we believe that more must be done to protect consumers,” the senators wrote. “Travel reservations made on fraudulent websites can be costly and stressful for travelers, and it is critical to ensure that Americans understand how to recognize travel scams and their recourse options should they fall victim to these scams.”

Payments company Flywire found that 7 out of 10 frequent travelers say they’ll likely spend more on travel in 2022. But more tourists also means more scammers looking to prey on travelers. Travel scams could take the form of fraudsters disguised as booking agents or counterfeit tickets being sold online. The FTC’s website warns consumers of rental-listing rip-offs, timeshare tricks, and sweepstakes swindles.

In their letter, the senators also included four specific questions addressed to acting FTC chief Rebecca Kelly Slaughter about the commission’s coordination with the Department of Justice, any additional measures needed to “better protect consumers,” data around travel scams, and “additional resources” that the organization may need to better address travel scams.

The FTC did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for further comment.

This isn’t the first time that Klobuchar has crossed party lines on the issue of tourism. She introduced the Protecting Tourism in the United States Act in February, along with Republican Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri.

Read the entire letter from Klobuchar and Daines here:

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Senate Republicans to discuss repealing ban on earmarks, key tactic for passing difficult legislation

Mitt Romney
Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT).

  • The Senate GOP will meet next week to decide on bringing earmarks, funding members can use for their districts, back.
  • This follows House Republicans approving the restoration of earmarks in March.
  • Some GOP Senators opposed bringing earmarks back because of past abuses with the funding measure.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Almost a month after House Republicans voted to approve the restoration of earmarks, Senate Republicans are expected to meet next week to discuss bringing back the so-called community funding measures.

A decade ago, Republicans banned earmarks, which allow members to put funding for their districts in a larger bill, following a series of scandals related to earmark abuses. But now, both House Democrats and House Republicans have voted to bring them back, and Senate Republicans are set to meet next Wednesday to ratify their rules and discuss earmark usage, according to Bloomberg.

As some moderate Democrats, notably Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, stress the importance of bipartisan legislation, earmarks could be an important tactic for easing difficult legislation through congress on bipartisan lines.

Republican Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama told The Hill on Tuesday that Democrats are already going forward with restoring earmarks, so he thinks “the decision is headed toward letting every member decide if they want to participate in the earmark process.”

On March 2, House Democrats introduced new guidelines for earmarks to bring them back while increasing transparency and requiring members to verify they have no financial interest in the funding requests, among other things.

On March 17, House Republicans voted by secret ballot to bring earmarks back as well. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said after the vote that there was “real concern” about solely the Biden administration directing where money goes.

“This doesn’t add one more dollar,” McCarthy said. “I think members here know what’s most important about what’s going on in their district, not Biden.”

However, some Senate Republicans did not feel the same. Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah told reporters after the vote that earmarks “are not the right way to go.”

“They have been associated with excess, and it would represent a turn to the worst,” he said.

The ban on earmarks once had bipartisan support, as a series of scandals led to former President Barack Obama saying in 2011 that he would veto any bill containing earmarks.

A defining earmark scandal occurred in 2005, when Alaska Rep. Don Young secured $233 million for a bridge that would connect two small cities, which became known as the “bridge to nowhere,” as critics said the bridge would not significantly benefit Young’s community. The same year, former California Rep. Duke Cunningham landed himself eight years in prison for accepting $2.4 million in bribes in return for promising earmarks to defense contractors.

As recently as March 1, a group of 10 Republican senators, led by Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and Steve Daines of Montana, introduced a bill to permanently ban earmarks. Rubio said in a statement that earmarks had led to “corruption and waste, and bought votes in Congress for unpopular legislation.”

Although Republican lawmakers have largely opposed President Joe Biden’s infrastructure plan thus far, bringing earmarks back could help pass difficult legislation as it allows lawmakers to include funding for their specific districts in bills.

The House is already using earmarks again, and the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee is accepting member requests for community funding through April 23 .

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Montana Sen. Steve Daines said his state used to have ‘homegrown’ meth, but now that it’s coming from Mexican cartels it’s more ‘pure’

steve daines
Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., speaks during a Senate Finance Committee hearing on the nomination of Xavier Becerra to be Secretary of Health and Human Services on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2021.

  • A group of GOP senators visited the southern border this week amid a surge in migrants.
  • During a news conference, Sen. Steve Daines said meth in his state used to be “homegrown.”
  • Now, he said, it is coming from Mexican cartels and is more pure, making it more dangerous.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Montana Sen. Steve Daines said during a press conference Friday that methamphetamine in the state used to be “homegrown,” but is now coming from Mexican cartels.

He was speaking from Texas during a trip to the southern border with fellow Republican senators amid the ongoing surge of migrants.

“Twenty years ago in Montana, meth was homemade. It was homegrown. And it had purity levels less than 30 percent,” Daines said.

“Today, the meth that is getting into Montana is Mexican cartel. It has purities north of 95 percent. Far more dangerous, far more addictive, and it’s less expensive because they’re producing so much of it and then shipping it into our country,” he continued.

Read more: The ultimate guide to US marijuana legalization: The key dates to know, and which stocks could benefit the most.

Daines had made similar comments earlier in the week to local outlet KTVQ ahead of the border trip. He has also said heroin and fentanyl from Mexico have flooded into Montana and that the surge of migrants prevents border patrol agents from focusing on drug traffickers.

Street-level meth in the US has become purer in recent decades, in part driven by drugs produced in labs in Mexico, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported.

Texas Sens. Ted Cruz and John Cornyn hosted the trip, which included Sens. Lindsey Graham, Tom Cotton, and Chuck Grassley, among others. The group of 18 GOP senators visited locations in the Rio Grande Valley with Customs and Border Patrol agents.

During the news conference, they railed against President Joe Biden for the increase in migrants, blaming the president’s reversal of Trump-era immigration policies.

Meanwhile, a delegation of Democratic lawmakers made a separate border trip, during which blame was placed on former President Donald Trump.

The last major surge of migrants at the southern border was in 2019, with current border apprehensions approaching those levels. The secretary of Homeland Security said earlier this month that the US is on pace for a larger surge of migrants at the southwest border than it has seen in two decades.

Have a news tip? Contact this reporter at kvlamis@insider.com.

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House Republicans vote to approve restoring earmarks after decade-long ban

FILE PHOTO: House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) speaks at his weekly news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., June 25, 2020. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas
House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy.

  • The House Republican caucus voted to approve the restoration of earmarks on Wednesday.
  • Democrats introduced reforms weeks ago as it sought to lift the GOP’s decade-old ban on earmarks.
  • Restoring the use of earmarks could make legislation easier to pass for both parties.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Republicans instituted a ban on earmarks a decade ago, following a series of scandals related to abuses, but on Wednesday, House Republicans voted to support bringing earmarks back, potentially signaling a positive trajectory for President Joe Biden’s economic agenda.

The vote – conducted by secret ballot – follows House Democrats’ introduction of earmark reform guidelines at the end of February. Restoring earmarks could help ease legislation that doesn’t equally benefit all representatives.

“There’s a real concern about the administration directing where money goes,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy told reporters after the vote. “This doesn’t add one more dollar. I think members here know what’s most important about what’s going on in their district, not Biden.”

However, Senate Republicans still have not voted on restoring earmarks, and some of them have already voiced clear opposition to doing so.

On Saturday, Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah told reporters that earmarks “are not the right way to go.”

“They have been associated with excess, and it would represent a turn to the worst,” he said.

The ban on earmarks – which Democrats have been calling “community-funding projects” – has a loaded history, and for a time, had bipartisan support.

In 2005, Alaska Rep. Don Young secured $233 million for a bridge that would connect two small cities, which became known as the “bridge to nowhere,” with critics saying the bridge would not significantly benefit Young’s community. The same year, former California Rep. Duke Cunningham landed himself eight years in prison for accepting $2.4 million in bribes in return for promising earmarks to defense contractors.

Former President Barack Obama in 2011 said that he would veto any bill containing earmarks, and until 2019, when then-House Appropriations Chair Nita Lowey explored bringing earmarks back, Congress functioned without the community funding measure for a decade.

And on March 1, 10 Republican senators, led by Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and Steve Daines of Montana, introduced a bill to permanently ban earmarks. Rubio said in a statement that earmarks led to “corruption and waste, and bought votes in Congress for unpopular legislation.”

Bringing back earmarks with Republican support could help Biden move forward with his infrastructure bill, which he and other Democrats have said they would like to be bipartisan. The president has not yet announced specific funding plans for infrastructure, and conservative and moderate lawmakers have already made it clear that they will not support another bill that uses reconciliation.

But if the GOP lends support to earmarks, they could have a greater say in the course the infrastructure bill might take and where the spending would go, which would be a relief to lawmakers like Rep. Sam Graves – ranking member on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee – who said in a statement that he does not want “another Green New Deal disguising itself as a transportation bill.”

The passage of Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus bill was his first major economic victory, and with the potential return of earmarks, along with possible reforms to the filibuster – which Biden said on an ABC News interview on Tuesday that he would support – implementing his economic agenda could occur with greater ease than expected.

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