The new tax law teaches that personal contacts trump legislative process. People working together can change history.
Despite years spent by Congress on tax reform bills and hearings, multiple conferences at distinguished think tanks and numerous columns and op-eds (including my own), our newest tax law was not decided in a systematic manner by Congress.
Rather, it was negotiated on Dec. 30 and 31 by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Vice President Biden, who had spent decades together in the Senate on opposite sides of the aisle.
Importance of personal contacts is also the lesson of a sparkling new book on former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill by Hudson Institute scholar Cita Stelzer.
"Dinner with Churchill: Policy-Making at the Dinner Table," just out from Pegasus Books, tells the story of what Churchill accomplished through personal interaction over meals all over the world.
Complete with descriptions of menus, guests, Champagne, wine, whiskey (Churchill was not an alcoholic, Stelzer tells us) and cigars, the book is a window into a vital historical period when Britain and America triumphed over Germany and together won World War II.
Using examples from the 1900s to the 1950s, Stelzer explains that Churchill made it his business to get to know friends and opponents alike by inviting them to dinner.
She writes, "No matter the circumstances -- whether in the dining room at Chartwell or on a picnic chair in the desert -- Churchill's profound belief in the importance of face-to-face meetings, and his unshakeable confidence in his ability to get his own way in such intimate encounters, never wavered."
For example, at dinners in 1941 aboard American and British ships in Newfoundland's Placentia Bay, Churchill persuaded President Franklin Roosevelt that Britain would not collapse as had France and convinced him to gear up war production, which kept Britain afloat until America entered the war in December 1941.
Not all dinners showed such success, as Stelzer admits. "In Washington in 1954, when he once again lived at the White House, Churchill was unable to persuade President Eisenhower, or his Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles, to agree to a summit meeting with the Soviets," she writes.
Stelzer's descriptions range from sandwiches (Churchill liked his bread cut thin with plenty of filling) to elaborate multicourse meals complete with cigars and wines. Just to see the original reproductions of these menus, previously unpublished in America, is reason enough to buy the book.
At a dinner hosted by Churchill in 1945 for Roosevelt and Soviet leader Josef Stalin at Yalta, the menu included caviar, white and red salmon, sucking pig with horseradish sauce, vol-au-vent of game, cream of chicken soup, white fish with Champagne sauce, mutton, wild goat, roast turkey, quails and partridge. Dessert was ice cream, fruit, petits fours and roast almonds.
Such dinners would not happen today. But although menus have shrunk since the mid-20th century, the importance of personal contacts in policymaking is as true as ever. We can learn from Churchill and from Stelzer's magnificently researched book.
Consider: When McConnell saw negotiations were at a standstill, he called his buddy and said they needed to talk. Then, they threw something together and got it done in under two days.
In the final section of the bill, McConnell and Biden even managed to scrap the Congressional Budget Office's PAYGO rules, which required tax cuts to be offset by spending cuts -- rules that limited the Bush tax rates to a period of 10 years. They simply passed a new law overriding the CBO.
That's true friendship. Churchill would have approved.