On July 19, the Institute’s Congressional Program hosted its 400th breakfast conversation for members of the US Congress. Since the first breakfast in 1986, breakfasts have provided a neutral and off-the-record forum where members of Congress can probe critical issues facing the nation, such as relations with China, Russia, Latin America, and the Islamic world; nuclear proliferation; education reform; and the future of energy consumption. Breakfasts bring together a bipartisan, bicameral group of twenty or thirty legislators with a world renowned policy expert to discuss a topic without members of the media, congressional staff, or lobbyists there to observe and influence the proceedings. The dialogue at our breakfasts between Republican and Democratic legislators has sparked legislative initiatives to address challenges such as reforming the public school system, the availability of potable water in developing countries, and many other issues.
As a testament to the effectiveness of the program, over 160 sitting members of the House and Senate have attended at least one of our events. Fourteen of our program alumni have become cabinet secretaries, nine have become governors, three have become speaker of the house, and two have become vice president.
Extreme partisanship, vitriol in public discourse, and distortion and sensationalism in the media have caused many Americans to worry about the functionality of their government. By providing a neutral forum for members of Congress to interact with each other cordially and to inform themselves on the issues and discuss possible solutions, this program’s breakfasts provide a critical service to Congress.
When Walter Paepcke founded the Aspen Institute in 1950, he wanted to create a neutral and balanced venue for discussing and acting on critical issues, and to foster values-based leadership in American society. I am honored to continue the Institute’s core mission in the halls of Congress, and to celebrate the 400th occasion for members of Congress to have an informed conversation on the issues and work together toward solutions.