Friday, March 10, 2006

Monumental problems for D.C. operators

Have a good thought for your colleagues in Washington, D.C., where the U.S. Congress is considering a bill that would devastate the local dining scene. The measure, already approved by the Senate, would prohibit congressmen from accepting a meal from a lobbyist. Think about that for a minute. The industry felt the squeeze when Congress merely discouraged business meals by rolling back the 100% tax deduction for restaurant entertaining. Imagine the effect on your business of banning business meals altogether.

Yet that, in essence, is exactly what Congress is looking to do in the District. The business of Washington is politics, and restaurants are where much of that business is conducted. The Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington has estimated that as much as 30% of the city’s fine-dining revenues come from keeping congressmen fed and happy. And that’s with a $50 per-meal cap on any meal purchased for a pol by a lobbyist. The law would make a free Slim Jim illegal.

Granted, a few politicians abused the situation, as has been noted here several times. But there’s a big difference between five figures’ worth of free meals and a $35 lunch where politician and stakeholder discuss the pros and cons of complicated legislative matters. The pendulum is swinging too far back the other way.

The senators and congressmen will no doubt continue to eat just fine. It’s the city’s restaurateurs who will forego their daily bread.

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