A Simple Menu for a Bipartisan Breakfast Club
Members of the bipartisan breakfast club, led by two freshmen, simply long to get something, anything, accomplished without the rancor, posturing and divisiveness.
Nov 17, 2011 -
New York Times — Every two weeks or so, a dozen House Republicans and Democrats repair to an office on Capitol Hill for bad croissants and lukewarm coffee, and to chat about the legislation they would like to enact together. They are not a committee, they are not a caucus; their group does not really even have a name. But in the 112th Congress, what they are is sort of remarkable.
Members of the bipartisan breakfast club, led by two freshmen, simply long to get something, anything, accomplished without the rancor, posturing and divisiveness that has characterized most of the last year in Washington, leading up to the joint Congressional panel assigned to cut $1.2 trillion from the federal deficit. For many members of the group, which ranges from seven to a dozen lawmakers at any given meeting, the escape from the floor and committee rooms riven by partisanship to eat pastries with new friends from across the aisle is the best part of their week.
The group is hardly the first on Capitol Hill to try to bridge the divide as members of Congress often struggle to build relationships with those in the opposition. But this year has been more difficult than most, considering the deep differences between the two parties.
The club has a few bylaws, to prevent outbreaks of partisanship, that members had to agree to. They are mostly to not grandstand, talk about party or reflexively denounce another member’s ideas. The objective, members say, is pretty simple. “We need to be able to work together,” said Representative James B. Renacci, a freshman Republican from Ohio, who formed the group with Representative John Carney, Democrat of Delaware, who was also elected last year.
Mr. Carney, a moderate from a centrist state, said that during the first few months of his tenure here he “had been trying to find someone on the other side to talk to.” Mr. Renacci, with whom he serves on the financial services committee, was someone “who when he talked made a lot of sense,” Mr. Carney said.
So as the two walked together one day to a security briefing last April, Mr. Carney made his move. “John said, ‘Let’s have breakfast,’ ” Mr. Renacci said. There were eggs and coffee, and mutual confessions about their despondency over partisanship.
“We talked about how we were just down here as Americans trying to get things done,” Mr. Renacci said. “After the breakfast I said to him, does he have like-minded people he could bring to the table because I had some like-minded people, and the next meeting started with a few more and then there were a few more and now we are about 12.”
Representative Daniel Webster of Florida, another freshman Republican, started coming. Representative Peter Welch, a Democrat from Vermont is on board too. Representatives Patrick Meehan and Mike Kelly, freshmen Republicans from Pennsylvania, are also members, as are Representatives Jim Himes of Connecticut and Mike Quigley of Illinois, both Democrats. The staff members for Mr. Carney and Mr. Renacci also held a happy hour at Bullfeathers, a local bar, to extend the efforts.
The group is heavy with freshmen, but it also has members who have worked in state legislatures or executive branches where bipartisanship was a survival technique. “In Vermont, I appointed three Republicans to be chairs of major committees,” said Mr. Welch, who served as president pro tem of the state’s Senate. “Some people here think I had lost my mind when they hear that story, others think I am a good guy but it has nothing to do with either of those things. I just wanted to get things done.”
Without the attendant news conferences and self-celebrating news releases, the group meets to talk about legislation they can agree on, and hammers out the fine points over breakfast.
Among the group’s measures currently sitting in committee are a bill that would give incentives to employers to hire long-term jobless people along with the Creating Homeownership Opportunity Act, which would establish pretax savings accounts that can be used for the down payment on a first home.
“A down payment home savings account is just a good idea,” Mr. Webster said.
“We have found some things we can agree on,” he said. “And maybe that’s more exciting than the actual ideas themselves.”