Here’s a little-known secret of the House Appropriations Committee: There are perks to those long markup meetings.
Members of the chamber’s power-of-the-purse committee bring food and drink from their districts when they expect to be stuck in the committee room for hours.
The House’s only dairy farmer has made his mark as the most popular snack provider.
“A lot of members are bringing stuff from their districts, and I was bringing almonds and pistachios,” Rep. David Valadao said. “A couple of the guys started talking trash and said, ‘You’re a dairy farmer, where’s the milk?’ And then they would actually bring little boxes of cereal and look at me like, ‘If we only had milk to go with this cereal.’ And, so one day, I said ‘All right, we’ll make it happen,’ and I brought some milk back.”
The California Republican now brings milk by the bottleful, with flavors ranging from banana and strawberry to root beer, eggnog, vanilla and chocolate.
“When he brings these things to committee, the cooler is right under us and you have to taste them all,” Rep. David Joyce said while treating himself to some milk in Valadao’s office. Joyce does his part at meetings, sharing his wife’s buckeye candy made with homemade peanut butter from the Ohio Republican’s home state.
The milk has made Valadao popular with children when they’re on the Hill. During inauguration this year, when members had their families in town, children went to Valadao’s office for milk. Republican Rep. Rodney Davis brought a cooler brimming with milk back to his twin boys in Illinois.
“[Rep.] Markwayne Mullin’s kids, his boys, will come, and I gave each one of them a bottle,” Valadao said. “One day I was walking out, and one of them was sitting out by the Capitol Police officers watching the door, and he was literally sitting there drinking the whole bottle.”
When Valadao flies back to Washington after weekends at home, he often puts eight bottles of milk in a cooler, fills it with ice packs and checks it. The total weight of the bottles is roughly 40 pounds.
“The only problem is waiting for a bag when you get here,” he said. “Most of us don’t pack more than a backpack.”
Milk is ingrained in the congressman’s life. He was born and raised on a dairy farm and is now passing on the tradition to his three children.
“It’s all I’d ever really done before running for office. … It’s something I really enjoy, and it’s pretty much what my wife and I planned on doing forever,” he said. “Kind of got sidetracked a little, and now I’m in Congress.”
Dairy farming has informed his work in Congress, Valadao said, especially on the Appropriations Committee.
“Dairy farming’s a little bit different because you get to do a little of everything,” he said. “It’s experiences that help me understand some of the topics and get a better understanding of what we’re talking about — not just building something, but understanding why is it so expensive or should it be so expensive.”