Trying to cut the federal budget deficit must work up a mighty powerful hunger and thirst.
Bush administration and congressional negotiators ran up a tab of nearly $60,000 for food and drink during their 10 days of futile meetings in the converted bar of the Andrews Air Force Base Officers' Club in September, according to Air Force records.
The budget talks were moved from the Capitol to Andrews Sept. 7 in an attempt to focus efforts on reaching an agreement to save as much as $500 billion from the federal deficit over five years.
In between haggling over new taxes and Medicare cuts, the bargainers dined on prime rib and Chicken Oscar, munched on M&M's and cookies and slurped down sundaes of vanilla ice cream, hot chocolate sauce and chopped nuts.
"They met, they ate, they conquered," one participant joked at the time.
What they didn't work up was a budget deal. It took more meetings of a smaller group of congressional leaders and administration officials back in the Capitol to accomplish that.
But they didn't go hungry. An average of 321 meals were served each day at a total cost of $34,000 for the 10-day summit, according to an Air Force spokesman, Col. Joe Purka. There were an average of 73 breakfasts each day at a cost of $6.95 each, 123 lunches at $8.95 each and 125 dinners at $16.95 each.
Another $14,500 went to keeping the main meeting room -- the main Officers' Club bar -- stocked with coffee, pastries, fruit, cheese, M&M's and soft drinks. In addition, it cost $2,100 to keep the separate Democratic and Republican caucus rooms in chips and other snacks.
The negotiators didn't go thirsty, either. The bill for "assorted beverages" -- liquor, wine, soft drinks and drinks with dinner -- averaged $6.79 each day for each participant. With an average of 130 people attending the meetings each day, according to Purka, that works out to a tab of about $8,800.
The costs were reported in the January issue of Armed Forces Journal International, a monthly magazine.
At the time, participants complained there was too much food and, in spite of the proximity of a swimming pool, golf course and tennis courts, not enough opportunity to exercise. "We meet, we eat, we sleep," said one.
Not everyone suffered from exercise deprivation, though. Four rounds of golf were played on the Andrews base course during the negotiations, according to Air Force records. The $15 greens fees were not charged to the cost of the budget summit, according to Purka.
The costs are still being audited, Purka said, and no decision has been made about who will pay them: Congress, the White House or the Air Force.
Maybe they'll hold another summit to settle it.