Breaking the Ice (Cream) on Capitol Hill

Amid ethics concerns about Tom DeLay, and bitterness over Social Security and other issues, members of Congress took a much needed bipartisan breather Wednesday: an ice cream social.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Here in Washington, lawmakers have accomplished a somewhat more modest achievement. Members of the House Ethics Committee actually held a meeting yesterday. The five Democrats had boycotted meetings for months. They were protesting rule changes that made it harder to start investigating lawmakers, including the majority leader, Tom DeLay. Now that Republicans have changed their minds, it appears there will be an investigation of DeLay after all.

(Soundbite of voices)

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Three floors away from where the Ethics Committee members met, there was another bipartisan gathering, probably a lot more jovial than the ethics meeting. It was an annual ice cream social, sponsored by Republican David Dreier of California.

Representative DAVID DREIER (Republican, California): Give them ice cream and they'll come.

MONTAGNE: Congressman Dreier says he's related to the same family that makes Dreyer's ice cream, which may explain why he sounds so cheerful here.

Rep. DREIER: We've got Democrats and Republicans embracing each other. Oh, my gosh. There is a direct correlation between this quest of ensuring that people are well-satisfied with ice cream and bold, dynamic, bipartisan legislative accomplishments.

INSKEEP: Now this ice cream social comes at a moment when the two parties can't agree on much. It's an especially combative time on everything from Tom DeLay's ethics trouble to proposed changes in Social Security, so NPR political editor Ken Rudin went in with some hardball questions.

Representative ROY BLUNT (Republican, Missouri): Well, I'm Roy Blunt. I'm the majority whip in the House of Representatives, and I'm from southwest Missouri.

KEN RUDIN reporting:

What is the solvency of ice cream in 2043?

Rep. BLUNT: We feel good about the future of ice cream, and everybody actually needs their personal ice cream account.

Rep. DREIER: We don't call it privatization. We call it personalization.

Rep. BLUNT: Yeah.

RUDIN: Yeah. So basically the older you get, the more you move in the middle class, the less ice cream you get?

Rep. BLUNT: That's...

Rep. DREIER: No, no, no, no.

Rep. BLUNT: No.

Rep. DREIER: The more you get, because you know, when you invest in ice cream...

Rep. BLUNT: Right.

Rep. DREIER: ...early on in life, the rewards are phenomenal. You can carry it with you for years and years to come.

RUDIN: So ice cream will be solvent in 2043?

Rep. DREIER: Ice cream will be solvent and obviously those who conserve it can build up a reserve.

MONTAGNE: Later, Ken asked Michigan Congressman Vernon Ehlers, a Republican, whether a jolly event like this one could make the slightest difference in easing partisan rancor.

Representative VERNON EHLERS (Republican, Michigan): What it illustrates is Shakespeare's old saying, you know: `Strive mightily, but sup together afterwards.' In other words, fight like dogs and cats to get what you believe is right, but when it's all over, you go out for lunch together. You simply do not accomplish anything by creating enemies out of people who oppose you.

RUDIN: And yet would you listen to the dialogue--when you listen to the back-and-forth, it's not pretty.

Rep. EHLERS: No, it certainly isn't pretty, and what has happened to bring that on, I believe, is three-fourths of the House of Representatives goes home every weekend. You don't have that same social awareness of each other that they had in the old days, where they played golf together on weekends. I think that really has hurt the camaraderie of the House of Representatives and the Senate.

Representative CHARLIE MELANCON (Democrat, Louisiana): My name is Charlie Melancon, congressman from Louisiana's 3rd Congressional District. Last week I went to Rome, and I sat next to a member of Congress that's from Texas, newly elected. It's amazing how much he and I had in common. He's Republican, I'm Democrat. We talked about why we're not talking. We're not seeing each other during the day. There used to be a bipartisan lounge, and I don't care what you serve in it, but maybe we ought to reopen that, and people come in, and ice cream would be a great thing to have in that lounge.

RUDIN: OK, so you're a Democrat from Manhattan?

Representative JERROLD NADLER (Democrat, New York): I'm Jerrold Nadler, the 8th Congressional District of Manhattan and Brooklyn.

RUDIN: Congressman, here we are at a Republican-sponsored, or at least a bipartisan anomaly.

Rep. NADLER: Republican advertisement for Dreyer's ice cream.

RUDIN: How long does this bipartisanship last?

Rep. NADLER: Another hour, probably.

RUDIN: A few minutes ago we spoke to a freshman Democrat from Louisiana's 3rd District, and he seemed very hopeful. He thought that there's a chance for people to reach across party lines. What advice would you give that freshman member of Congress?

Rep. NADLER: Stay optimistic, do everything you can but don't be surprised at anything you see.

INSKEEP: That's Democratic Congressman Jerrold Nadler of New York, speaking yesterday to NPR's Ken Rudin at a much-needed ice cream social on Capitol Hill.

This is NPR News.

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