Do you know where your congressman is?

Do you know how much of our money he's spending -- and on what?

Do you know that he can keep the change from the taxpayer money he gets for official overseas trips?

Tuesday's Wall Street Journal reported that while the daily congressional allowance for such journeys "must be spent on meals, cabs and other travel expenses," much of it goes unspent because "when lawmakers travel, many of their meals and expenses are picked up by other people, such as foreign government officials or U.S. ambassadors."

And: "That can leave lawmakers with leftover money. Lawmakers routinely keep the extra funds or spend it on gifts, shopping or to cover their spouses' travel expenses, according to dozens of current and former lawmakers."

That sweet deal strikes a sour note in economic times nearly as rotten as this mixed metaphor.

It's also striking discomfort in the halls of power. The Office of Congressional Ethics Committee is investigating the travel-fund windfalls. Sufficient evidence of violations, if found, would be turned over to the House Ethics Committee.

Among the five House members sweating out this untimely election-year scrutiny is 2nd District Republican Rep. Joe Wilson. The Journal cited his admitted use of roughly $12 in per-diem surplus to buy six marble goblets during an August 2009 excursion to Afghanistan.

Then this Saturday revelation from McClatchy Newspapers dramatically raised Wilson's image-damage stakes: He has drawn nearly $38,000 in per-diem money for 30 trips over the last eight years. So how much did he reap in "leftover" loot?

Rob Miller, Wilson's Democratic challenger, predictably decries the incumbent's frequent-flier habit, proclaiming: "Cleaning up ethics in Washington is one of my highest priorities."

At least Wilson has cleaned up his manners since yelling "You lie!" during President Obama's 2009 State of the Union speech. And hey, Wilson did give those ill-gotten goblets to military vets and their families.

The other investigation targets are Reps. Robert Aderholt, R-Ala.; G.K. Butterfield, D-N.C.; Alcee Hastings, D-Fla.; and Solomon Ortiz, D-Texas.

Former Rep. Mark Souder, R-Ind., is off the official hook because he retired from the House in May. Yet he said he spent per diem funds on a $200 painting of a Turkish estuary (seriously) for his office, adding: "They asked for all kinds of records, and I said I don't have any, because you didn't have to keep them."

And Ortiz warned earlier this year that if the House were to pass legislation requiring members to repay it, "You could never get many members traveling."

Was that a threat or a promise?

Regardless, it hasn't stopped Rep. Tim Johnson, R-Ill., from introducing such a bill.

Local Republican House nominee Tim Scott, during a visit with our editorial staff Thursday, said he would not "pocket any of the money" left over from overseas trips if he wins that office -- a virtual certainty in the heavily GOP 1st District.

Scott's record delivers credibility to his vow: In 2005, as a member of Charleston County Council, he paid his own air fare to the National Association of Counties conference in Hawaii.

Maybe Congress should stop wasting its time and our money on far-flung treks.

Then again, better to have federal lawmakers squandering comparative chump change in distant realms than relentlessly raising our national debt ($13.45 trillion and climbing as of Saturday) in Washington.

Plus, all folks -- even members of Congress -- can benefit from the enlightening experience of getting way away from it all. As Mark Twain writes in "The Innocents Abroad":

"Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime."

And charitable views of politicians cannot be acquired when they keep our change.

Frank Wooten is assistant editor of The Post and Courier. His e-mail is wooten@postandcourier.com.