WASHINGTON—Citing a need to finally reach consensus on the country's most pressing political matters and a desire to foster a healthy, open environment for drafting new legislation, the U.S. senate held its first-ever brainstorming session Tuesday at Café Karma, a funky little coffee shop near the Capitol Building.
"We were all very pleased with the results of this historic meeting," said Sen. Joseph Biden (D-DE), showing reporters a bubble diagram of the main themes and potential solutions for the growing trade deficit with China discussed during the 90-minute rap session, as well as a charcoal sketch of his left hand. "It was a great opportunity for us to really get the juices flowing and start thinking outside the legislative box. It's amazing how many great new resolutions you can come up with if you're just willing to let your creative inhibitions go and really listen to other people's ideas."
Biden added, "In this space, no idea, no matter how polarizing or ideologically unconscionable, is a bad idea."
Because Café Karma—a favorite meeting place for musicians, poets, and visual artists in the area—offers 50-cent refills and features large, comfortable chairs, senators on both sides of the aisle considered it a natural venue for overcoming hurdles on a number of controversial issues. One free-association exercise led by Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK) led to a bipartisan, comprehensive new proposal for stem-cell research that features an accompanying theme song. A complete overhaul of the budget appropriations process was also drawn up, though the 128-page bill will have to be copied from napkin to paper form before going to a vote.
Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA) said that the success of the special session, in which more than 327 new proposed laws were conceived, including 68 by Kennedy himself, was the fact that it had fresher coffee and fewer restrictions than a normal legislative session.
"We made it perfectly clear to everyone in attendance that there would be only two rules," Kennedy said. "Rule No. 1: There are no rules. And Rule No. 2: See Rule No. 1"
"Of course, Rule No. 2, Sub-Section A refers only to procedure, and that is still in committee, so for our purposes, we only had two rules," Kennedy added.
Many senators claimed that Café Karma's collection of experimental water colors, alternative music, and eclectic light fixtures was in stark contrast to the staid and regal backdrop of the senate chamber where they normally meet. Moreover, a number said they found the youthful staff and clientele inspiring.
"One of the first things we did was float a $60 million endowment for the guy working on his screenplay way over in the corner," Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) said. "It sounds really cool, and he could definitely use some extra cash right now. We're all pretty psyched."
Not all of the senators' new ideas concerned politics. Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV) proposal for a cookie shaped like a spoon that could be used for stirring café lattes or other milk-based coffee drinks, and then consumed received nearly unanimous consent. Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS) also called a point of order to declare that Neutral Milk Hotel's Aeroplane Over the Sea was probably one of his top five albums of all time, though he did concede that it would impossible to definitively name the other four, since the list changes over time.
While nearly every senator interviewed said they were pleased with the new legislative ideas and were looking forward to regular Tuesday Senatorial Spitball Sessions at Karma, all agreed that the free and supportive process led to a unique sense of camaraderie.
"My esteemed colleagues are a wonderful, creative group of people," said Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN). "And I must say, I've never had so much fun cutting funding for inner-city pediatric health clinics in my life."