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Updated: 06/19/08

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Thursday, 19 June, 2008

It would be funny, if only the Senate had a sense of irony (Hat tip to Scott Ott):

Paul Kane, Washington Post

Year after year, decade upon decade, the U.S. Senate's network of restaurants has lost staggering amounts of money -- more than $18 million since 1993, according to one report, and an estimated $2 million this year alone, according to another.

The embarrassment of the Senate food service struggling like some neighborhood pizza joint has quietly sparked change previously unthinkable for Democrats. Last week, in a late-night voice vote, the Senate agreed to privatize the operation of its food service, a decision that would, for the first time, put it under the control of a contractor and all but guarantee lower wages and benefits for the outfit's new hires.

The House is expected to agree -- its food service operation has been in private hands since the 1980s -- and President Bush's signature on the bill would officially end a seven-month Democratic feud and more than four decades of taxpayer bailouts.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), chairman of the Rules and Administrations Committee, which oversees the operation of the Senate, said she had no choice.

"It's cratering," she said of the restaurant system. "Candidly, I don't think the taxpayers should be subsidizing something that doesn't need to be. There are parts of government that can be run like a business and should be run like businesses."

In a masterful bit of understatement, Feinstein blamed "noticeably subpar" food and service. Foot traffic bears that out. Come lunchtime, many Senate staffers trudge across the Capitol and down into the basement cafeteria on the House side. On Wednesdays, the lines can be 30 or 40 people long.

Some other choice points from the article:

- They have only turned a profit in seven of their 44 years in business.
- In the past 10 years, only 20 new items have been added to the Senate menus.
- Restaurant Associates, the current House contractor, who will take over the Senate restaurants in the fall, makes a profit, paying $1.2 million in commissions to the House since 2003.
- Feinstein ordered several studies before reality hit her in the face that this was the only option.
- According to Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), an opponent of the plan, "These are some of the lowest-paid workers in our country, and I want to help them." The wages of the approximately 100 Senate food service workers average $37,000 annually.
- "It's clearly not the sort of thing that I ran for the Senate to do," Feinstein said. "But somebody has to do it."

OK, now make a copy of this webpage, save it to a CD and bury it in a time capsule in your backyard. Forty or so years from now, if the Democrats manage to remove health care from the private sector and put it into the hands of the federal government (*shudder*), bring the CD out and send it to your local Congessperson. Tell them to insert the term "health care" wherever it reads "restaurant", "food", or "pizza", and then do it again.

[Be sure and read Scott's satire article that got me started on this in the first place!]

Quote du jour:

"Editors may think of themselves as dignified headwaiters in a well-run restaurant but more often [they] operate a snack bar . . . and expect you to be grateful that at least they got the food to the table warm."

Thomas Griffith (1915 - 2002) US "writer, editor

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