By Adam Snider
Rep. John Mica stayed in Washington a day longer than most of his House colleagues. It wasn't for a fancy fundraiser or a last-minute meeting -- it was for a McDonald's hamburger.
But the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee chairman's fast-food lunch wasn't driven by hunger. Standing outside a McDonald's just blocks from the Capitol, with TV cameras and reporters circled around, Mica (R-Fla.) again highlighted Amtrak's money-losing food and beverage service.
"I just went into this McDonald's, and I could buy a drink for a dollar and a hamburger for a dollar. But if you buy a hamburger on Amtrak, it costs the taxpayers $6.65," Mica said.
The media event was a follow-up to a Thursday hearing that focused on the railroad's food and drink losses. A hamburger costs Amtrak $16.15, with riders paying $9.50, according to committee figures. Taxpayers pick up the remaining $6.65, Mica said.
"You may even see me on an Amtrak train with a sign that says, "Don't eat the food, it adds to deficit spending,'" Mica said.
Toward the end of the presser, a train went by on the nearby elevated tracks, loudly blowing its horn. Mica seized the moment. "How much waste is going by? Please don't buy the hamburgers!" he yelled at the train.
Mica also said Amtrak is violating a law, on the books since 1981, that states the railroad can't lose money on food and beverage service. "They're violating the law," he said, "and I may look at some legal recourse to stop them from doing it."
The outdoor appearance wasn't unique -- Washington is full of splashy press conferences. Flaks get creative as they try to grab the attention of busy reporters tired of sitting in front of a podium and listening to talking points.
But Mica has a knack for knowing that location matters -- and he's been surprisingly effective. A few times he has simply announced a hearing and spurred action.
The day before his McDonald's drive-through, his committee announced a Monday hearing at an empty Miami courthouse owned by the General Services Administration, which is in hot water over a lavish employee conference and other scandals. An hour after the advisory, GSA announced it was taking submissions on what to do with the vacant property.
Months ago, Mica announced a hearing at the Georgetown Heating Plant in D.C. The day before the hearing, a "for sale" sign showed up in the building's window.
And early this year, the committee announced a follow-up hearing on the Old Post Office on Pennsylvania Avenue, a historic building that's been underutilized for years. Between the announcement and the hearing several weeks later, GSA announced a deal with Donald Trump's real estate group to turn the interior into a hotel and shopping center.
Mica has said he'll do whatever it takes -- which could mean more hearings and hamburgers -- to root out government waste. At least he won't go hungry.