The rest of the country may be in recession, but the lawyers and lobbyists in Washington have not been cutting back. I should know: I have been freeloading off of them. Every day in the last week, I have been treated to a breakfast, a lunch or an after-work happy hour by some group of well-heeled influence peddlers.
The best part about it is that I don’t have to pull any strings or gatecrash to get in. Invitations simply arrive in my email inbox, sometimes several in a day. Most are from people whom I don’t even know but are nevertheless eager to make my acquaintance.
What makes me so popular? I’m not sure really. I’m a professional writer by trade and I have covered a lot of different subjects in my time. At some point my name appears to have gotten caught, flypaper-like, on the list of “writers who cover our topic” of most every interest group in town. So they ply me with free drinks and food.
Or maybe they just want another warm body to fill the room during whatever it is that they are talking about. Either way, I show up when I can. Journalism is not an automatic path to riches and, really, are there two sweeter words in the English language than “open bar”?
Besides the people you meet at these events are invariably friendly and chatty, eager to tell you how their particular client’s interest really is the whole nation’s interest and therefore needs special attention from Congress. I nod sagely as they say this, unless the line at the bar is short.
Rarely will one hear anything at these events about how the nation is deeply in debt — $15 trillion at last count. That is an abstract problem, probably someone else’s problem and one that will probably get fixed once the economy stops being so problematic anyway. Whenever that happens.
It is easy to think that way if you are isolated from the pain the rest of the country is feeling in this recession. And there are few places that have weathered the storm as well as Washington, D.C. and its surrounding suburbs. Property values here remain high and the public sector continues to grow. In fact, D.C. is now officially the nation’s wealthiest city, thanks to its high concentration of lawyers.
Not everyone is rolling in the dough, of course. But enough of them are and most them got that way by the making the government’s business their business. And that business is never in recession.
I was at one event the other night, thrown by a tony K Street firm. It was held in the penthouse of a tall office building, with spectacular views of the city. It was exactly the sort of lobbyist gathering that Democrats often say they are fighting against — except that most of the people at this event were Democrats, many ex-Capitol Hill staffers, now enjoying the six-figure life. There’s plenty of work on both sides of the street.
As I chatted with these folks over good wine and better crab cakes, the topic du jour was the apparent failure of Congress’s budgetary “super committee” to come up with a plan to get the deficit under control.
If a deal is struck, the firm’s clients would want their priorities protected from the budget axe, which would mean plenty of work for the lobbyists. If the committee fails and the automatic sequestration budget cuts hit, well, their clients will need the same kind of protection. And if nothing at all happens, well, the firm had plenty of work before the super committee anyway.
So, back to business as usual, my cocktail party friends say. That doesn’t sound right to me. The government cannot just spend forever. But for now the party continues, at least as long as it is someone else’s tab at the bar.
From the windows of the penthouse, you could actually see the few dozen Occupy DC protesters camped out far below at the city’s McPherson Square — scruffy, dimwitted lefties who think they are somehow fighting the corrupting influence of money by freezing their asses off in a park at night. I doubt anyone at the event noticed them — or if they did, if they cared.
You know, there is probably a metaphor in there somewhere, but I cannot think of it. Anyhow, I went home after the bar closed.