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Waste of the Day: Throwback Thursday: Senate Restaurants Use Taxpayer Funds to Pay Expenses

In 2008, Capitol restaurants ran $2 million in the red and forced taxpayers to balance their books, according to a now-decased Senator.

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Topline: Taxpayers spent $2 million to feed their senators lunch in 2008, as Capitol restaurants posted their worst-ever net loss that year and dipped into emergency funds.

Senators had to pay for their own meals, but after accounting for payroll and other expenses, their cafeterias lost $2.9 million in 2024 dollars.

That’s according to the “Wastebook” reporting published by the late U.S. Senator Dr. Tom Coburn. For years, these reports shined a white-hot spotlight on federal frauds and taxpayer abuses.

Waste of the Day: Throwback Thursday: Senate Restaurants Use Taxpayer Funds to Pay Expenses
Waste of the Day 2.29.24 by Open the Books

Coburn, the late U.S. Senator from Oklahoma, earned the nickname “Dr. No” by stopping thousands of pork-barrel projects using the Senate rules. Projects that he couldn’t stop, Coburn included in his oversight reports.

Coburn’s Wastebook 2008 featured 65 examples of outrageous spending worth more than $1.3 billion, including the $2 million restaurant operating deficit.

Key facts: Senators used to dine in cafeterias managed by the government agency Senate Restaurants.


From 1993 to 2008, the restaurants lost over $18 million, forcing taxpayers to provide subsidies. The cafeterias operated at a deficit in 37 of 44 years and averaged an annual loss of $900,000.

The issue wasn’t that senators were paying too little for their meals; a sandwich and chips cost $11.50 in 2008, which is $16.38 today.

But poor business practices meant the Senate needed to take $250,000 from its emergency funds to keep the restaurants open and send paychecks to waitstaff on time.

The Senate voted to privatize its restaurants in June 2008.

But, not to worry: before making the switch, Senators passed a bill to ensure taxpayers would still be on the hook for the old restaurants’ employee pensions, insurance and accrued sick days.


Today, two private companies run seven restaurants for the Senate. One source of consistency: a little-known and poorly understood 1903 mandate requiring bean soup to be on the menu every day continues to be upheld.

Critical quote: “Candidly, I don’t think the taxpayers should be subsidizing something that doesn’t need to be,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein wrote in a 2008 letter. “Financially breaking even has not been the objective of the current management due to an expectation that the restaurants will operate at a deficit annually.”

Summary: Most restaurants would not be able to survive a year of $2 million in losses, let alone several years in the red. Apparently, that same principle does not apply when taxpayer money is at stake.

The #WasteOfTheDay is brought to you by the forensic auditors at

This article was originally published by RealClearInvestigations and made available via RealClearWire.

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Adam Andrzejewski (say: Angie-eff-ski) is the CEO/founder of Before dedicating his life to public service, Adam co-founded HomePages Directories, a $20 million publishing company (1997-2007). His works have been featured on the BBC, Good Morning America, ABC World News Tonight, C-SPAN, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, USA Today, FOX News, CNN, National Public Radio (NPR), Forbes, Newsweek, and many other national media.

Today, is the largest private repository of U.S. public-sector spending. Mission: post "every dime, online, in real time." In 2022, captured nearly all public expenditures in the country, including nearly all disclosed federal government spending; 50 of 50 state checkbooks; and 25 million public employee salary and pension records from 50,000 public bodies across America.

The group's aggressive transparency and forensic auditing of government spending has led to the assembly of grand juries, indictments, and successful prosecutions; congressional briefings, hearings, and subpoenas; Government Accountability Office (GAO) audits; Congressional Research Service (CRS) reports; federal legislation; and much more.

Our Honorary Chairman - In Memoriam is U.S. Senator Tom Coburn, MD.

Andrzejewski's federal oversight work was included in the President's Budget To Congress FY2021. The budget cited his organization by name, bullet-pointed their findings, and footnoted/hyperlinked to their report.

Posted on YouTube, Andrzejewski's presentation, The Depth of the Swamp, at the Hillsdale College National Leadership Seminar 2020 in Naples, Florida received 3.8 million views.

Andrzejewski has spoken at the Columbia School of Journalism, Harvard Law School and the law schools at Georgetown and George Washington regarding big data journalism. As a senior policy contributor at Forbes, Adam had nearly 20 million pageviews on 206 published investigations. In 2022, investigative fact-finding on Dr. Fauci's finances led to his cancellation at Forbes.

In 2022, Andrzejewski did 473 live television and radio interviews across broadcast, major cable platforms, and radio shows. Andrzejewski is the author of The Waste of the Day column at Real Clear Policy. The column is syndicated by Sinclair Broadcast Group, owners of nearly 200 ABC, NBC, CBS, and FOX affiliates across USA.

Andrzejewski lives in Hinsdale, Illinois with his wife Kerry and three daughters. He is a lector at St. Isaac Jogues Catholic Church and has finished the Chicago Marathon eight times (PR 3:58.49 in 2022).


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