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1 fun thing: Lunch with Erik Fatemi

May 20, 2024
Erik Fatemi

Fatemi at L'Ardente. Photo: Victoria Knight/Axios

We're back with another lunch Q&A, this time with Erik Fatemi, principal at Cornerstone Government Affairs and a former Senate Appropriations staffer under Chairman Tom Harkin.

  • He recently had a lunch of Zucca pasta with Axios' Victoria Knight and Peter Sullivan at L'Ardente, where tragically the 40-layer lasagna is only served at dinner.
  • The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

What's your go-to lunch spot on the hill?

  • As a Senate alum, I mean Cups. The buffet at Cups, I've been going for I don't know how many [years], like as long as Cups has been open.

Best celebrity sighting on the hill?

  • I have sat on a couch next to Bono. ... There's a hilarious photo where he is actually reaching into my pocket, because I'm an appropriations staffer, as if he's pulling money out.
  • Mr. Rogers. Mary Tyler Moore. Michael J. Fox. Christopher Reeve.
  • Those were often in hearings or in Sen. Harkin's office.

What is the latest you ever stayed at the office?

  • I was absolutely there all night one time. It was the Recovery Act [in 2009]. We were reading out that bill and we finished at like 5am. It was just like, there's no point in going home.
  • I have this very vivid memory, another staffer and I went to the Dirksen cafeteria and had breakfast the minute it opened.

Favorite bar on the hill and what do you order?

  • Union Pub. [Mentions wings, tater tots.]

Good TV show you watched lately? Or book or movie.

  • I just finished "Ripley." And I just finished "3 Body Problem."
  • The show I'm super excited when it comes back is "Severance."

What do you see for FY 25 appropriations, especially now that Tom Cole is House Appropriations chairman?

  • I think everyone's happy about Cole. He's an appropriator's appropriator, he's old school, wants to make a deal. So I think it's great that he's the new chair.
  • I think we will see as many markups as possible pretty soon on both the House and Senate side. Everything then is going to hit a wall. The typical kind of silly season during an election year. We'll have a CR, I don't think there will be a shutdown, it'll go into November, December, and then who knows?
  • Some presidential election years they finished it during the lame duck, and sometimes they punt it until the next Congress. ... If I had to guess right now I would say that if Trump wins, they punt it to the next Congress, and if Biden wins, they finish it in the lame duck.
  • The biggest thing that's going to hang over FY25 is going to be the caps, and will Congress decide to bust those caps in one way or another?
  • There are a lot of defense hawks in Congress who are not going to be satisfied with [a] 1% [increase]. So maybe, this is, I think, what a lot of people are hoping for, is that defense and non-defense kind of link arms and both go up beyond 1%.
  • But we won't really know how it plays out probably until after the election.

What do you think about NIH funding levels?

I mean at the end of the day it was a net cut for NIH in FY24, and that's going to be tough. If you want to look at it in a glass-half-full situation it's better than it might have been. ... It interrupted the momentum of the past few years ... I think the fear is about having two years in a row of that.

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