Congress is on the brink of the fiscal cliff, but that’s no reason to stop the holiday merriment.
The National Republican Congressional Committee organized a lavish, family-themed fundraising excursion for GOP lawmakers in New York City last weekend.
The trip, which included a private shopping spree at Bloomingdale’s, could fuel further criticism from top Democrats, who last week complained about the few days the House has been in session, even with many important political issues unresolved.
Members left for the trip, titled “Bright Lights and Broadway,” at 9:20 a.m. on Dec. 7 via Amtrak in two private train cars, according to an itinerary obtained by CQ Roll Call.
They stayed at the New York Palace, the luxury hotel that houses GILT, the two-star Michelin rated restaurant. The Zagat review of the Palace says: “‘It’s good to be king’ say the loyal subjects of this Midtown palace with a ‘perfect’ location ‘for everything’ and ‘graciously decorated’ quarters (royals ‘recommend the tower rooms’).”
At 8:30 a.m. on Dec. 8, participants were offered an opportunity to shop at Bloomingdale’s at 59th Street and Lexington Avenue.
Allowed into the store a half hour before opening, each guest was given a 15 percent “savings pass” and presented a gift bag with a purchase of $300 or more.
That afternoon, participants enjoyed a special event at the American Girl doll store. “Please join us for tea with your favorite American Girl doll,” the itinerary stated.
That evening, after a private reception, the members and their benefactors took to the theatre. Their options included “Newsies,” “A Christmas Story,” “Radio City Christmas Spectacular,” “Annie,” “Evita,” “Wicked” and “Grace.”
On Sunday morning, the fun continued at famed toy store FAO Schwarz, where the group was offered a 45-minute tour of the premises “by a world famous FAO Toy Soldier.”
Other perks included continental breakfast, a “candy raid” in a special candy section of the store and “private time” on the 16-foot walk-on piano made famous by Tom Hanks and Robert Loggia in the 1988 film “Big.”
“Personal shoppers will be on hand to assist with holiday shopping, as well,” the itinerary said.
At noon on Sunday, the group traveled to the Chelsea Piers Sports and Entertainment Complex, where participants chose among various activities, including a golf driving range with professional instructors on hand; rock climbing on a 25-foot artificial cliff; a guided gymnastics training session, including the use of “various trampolines”; batting cages and ice skating.
The registration form for members asked for a fee of $575 to pay for “round-trip transportation, one theatre ticket, events and private shopping.”
According to a review of prices for the various amenities included, that fee would not likely add up to the total price for each activity on its own. It is unclear whether the fee also paid for lodging at the New York Palace, where prices average more than $300 per night.
The logo for 3 Dog Consulting, a fundraising consulting firm from Alexandria, Va., was included on the registration form, and Amy Paridy, one of its employees, is listed as a point of contact.
Reached by phone Monday, Paridy declined to comment.
“Even members of Congress buy holiday gifts for their families this time of year. And yes, like every political committee we hold fundraising events in New York City,” said Andrea Bozek, a spokeswoman for the NRCC.
Bozek declined to answer questions about whether the small registration fee also paid for lodging or how many lawmakers went on the trip.
Gabriela Schneider, the communications director for the watchdog group the Sunlight Foundation, criticized the lawmakers for “gallivanting around New York City with high-end shopping sprees” when the fiscal cliff remains unresolved, threatening an economic recession.
She also said the trip shows how intimate the encounters between politicians and their benefactors can be.
“This definitely shows that those who pay have access to face-time with lawmakers. Most Americans don’t have that access, nor do most voters know who their elected officials are spending time with,” Schneider said.
Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi lit into Republicans on Dec. 6 for adjourning the House on Dec. 5.
“Why are we not here? Why are we not here trying to build confidence, find common ground? Even as members interact with each other, not just the principals, as they refer to leaders or the principals on the committees of jurisdiction, why are we not here getting information?” the California Democrat asked.
“We most certainly should be here. And it came as quite a surprise, and I’m rarely surprised, that the Republicans would leave, who came in Tuesday and left Wednesday, 12 o’clock, noon, with all that needs to be done, avoiding the conversation. Sounds like people don’t want to be in town for some reason, and the reason is; is because they are — we are asking them to sign a discharge petition” to pass a Senate bill extending the Bush tax cuts for all but the top 2 percent of earners.