Robert Price

Saturday, Jun 29 2013 11:00 PM

ROBERT PRICE: Bagels, anyone? Sunlight can sure kill your appetite

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    In an ABC News video screen grab, staffers carry trays of leftovers from a meeting that Rep. Kevin McCarthy had been attending in Washington, D.C. Rep. Kevin McCarthy's office has spent $95,000 on breakfast and coffee and an additional $4,000 for bottled water. The Sunlight Foundation, a watchdog group advocating for government transparency, found that the House of Representatives spent nearly $2 million on coffee and food in 2012 for events in and around the Capitol.

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By Robert Price

Allow me to pile on and join the chorus chastising members of Congress for going nuts on bagels, fruit plates and coffee to the tune of almost $2 million last year.

Leading the way was our own magnanimous big spender, Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield. With federal agencies and assorted government services still dealing with those across-the-board cuts known as sequestration, justifying the House's apparent addiction to five-star catering is a tough sell.

As reported by ABC News -- by way of the Sunlight Foundation, a watchdog group that focuses on preserving the ever-diminishing virtue of government transparency -- members of Congress seemingly spare no expense when it comes to feeding themselves and their friends at events in and around the Capitol. The top spendthrift was McCarthy, who authorized $95,000 in food and drink, not including $4,000 for bottled water. I hope they're at least recycling.

Everybody's getting into the act, Republicans and Democrats alike. House Speaker John Boehner spent $64,000 on food and drink from his representational allowance, which lawmakers can tap to pay for just about anything. Democratic House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi spent $61,000. No. 2 Democrat Steny Hoyer spent $52,000. We haven't seen unanimity on Capitol Hill like this since FDR asked for a declaration of war.

I will cut McCarthy one small break, however. As majority whip, it's his job to herd the unherdable -- a Republican caucus of ideologues and contrarians that make his job a lot less glamorous than some might imagine. It's not hard to envision McCarthy inviting obstinate tea partiers into his office and plying them with croissants and jam in an effort to engage and persuade.

I know -- that's an awful lot of croissants and jam.

In any case, it's not working out all that well for K-Mac. Week before last, the Washington Post's Chris Cillizza bestowed upon McCarthy the dreaded "worst week in Washington" award after our congressman suffered the indignity of watching the GOP leadership-endorsed farm bill go up in flames, "in large part," Cillizza wrote, "due to the revolt of more than five dozen GOPers."

That defeat wasn't merely tough for McCarthy to swallow, it was tough for most of us who would like to see the parameters of an overdue farm bill update take shape sometime before Biblical locusts, disgusted by all of the institutional tire-spinning, descend and ravenously render it all moot. But I digress.

Republicans control 234 seats in the House, which should be more than enough for the leadership team to get whatever it wants. But this is a new era, as McCarthy all too well knows. The tri-corner-hat gang, elected on a platform of populist, intransigent rabble-rousing, has almost as much contempt for the Republican leadership as it has for the Marxists on the other side of the aisle.

Republicans blamed the defeat on the Democrats, who didn't deliver all of the votes they were supposed to deliver, either. But a united GOP, flush with numbers, could've pulled this off without any bipartisan help. Boehner and friends have always expected Pelosi's minions to give them trouble at every turn; at least they can quantify what they're up against. Not so with certain members of their own party, who take their directions elsewhere.

"Republican leaders are leaders in name only," Cillizza wrote. "They lack the ability to lead their fractious conference anywhere. Kevin McCarthy, for getting whipped by your own party, you had the worst week in Washington. Congrats, or something."

The question now is, who was the last public servant to receive the award twice in one month? McCarthy and his catering staff might make a strong case.

Email Editorial Page Editor Robert Price at rprice@bakersfield.com.

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