Between 45 and 55 members of the House Financial Services Committee attended a members-only dinner Monday at Capitol Hill’s Lavagna on Barracks Row, a rare sign of bipartisan bonhomie.
Chairman Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, reportedly paid 54 percent of the roughly $5,000 tab, while ranking member Maxine Waters, D-Calif., paid 46 percent — a division reflecting the panel’s party composition.
Rep. Jim Himes, D-Conn., tweeted during the meal that the Financial Services Committee was “breaking bread together” at an Italian restaurant. “Dems and Republicans side by side,” Himes tweeted. Lavagna, an Italian restaurant at 539 Eighth St. SE, tweeted that it was closed all day Monday for a “private event.” The family-style banquet was booked three weeks ago, and the dinner went from about 7 to 10 p.m. Members were served bruschetta, house-made pastas such as pesto rigatoni and a dish called chicken vino. Bottles of chardonnay, Chianti and Montepulciano were on the table, and a cash bar was provided, according to the restaurant.
Seating alternated between Republicans and Democrats, and at the outset of the dinner, Hensarling read from George Washington’s “Rules of Civility.”
“Let your conversation be without malice or envy ... and in causes of passion admit reason to govern,” was one portion Hensarling read to panel members.
He also quoted Benjamin Franklin: “Be civil to all, sociable to many, familiar with a few ... enemy to none.”
The idea for the dinner, according to a committee staffer, was inspired by a lunch between Hensarling and Waters in the Members Dining Room late last year.
According to the staffer, Hensarling said at the dinner that members should be able to debate and disagree on the issues without questioning each other’s character, motives or integrity. Personal credit cards were used to purchase the meal.
Besides breaking bread, some government watchdog groups questioned whether the dinner broke rules.
The committee is obligated to notify the public three days in advance of any business meeting.
Members did not receive testimony or vote on anything; a committee press secretary said Hensarling wanted members to talk in a social setting and “discuss the need for civility in their debates.”
But that could constitute a rules violation, a Common Cause spokesman said.
“It’s not clear that this violates the rules, but it comes right up to the line,” the spokesman said. Common Cause favors “just about anything that promotes civility in Congress, but it’s hard to understand why members would want or feel the need for a private discussion on this sort of thing.”
Angela Canterbury, spokeswoman for the Project on Government Oversight, said the group was interested in who funded the dinner and whether business was actually discussed, but she said the group would not wag fingers at members trying to build relationships across party lines.
“There is not enough of that going on in Washington today,” Canterbury said.