But Who Got the Tip?

YOU might say it was the unkindest Nethercutt of all. What's that?

Well, Congressman George Nethercutt, the GOP freshman who toppled former House Speaker Tom Foley in 1994, was invited to a 50th birthday dinner earlier this winter. The honoree was his good friend of 25 years, Jack Ferguson. Mr. Ferguson has become a lobbyist since the two served as Senate staffers long ago.

The host that evening was another lobbyist, Democrat David Johnson. Johnson did what any law-abiding lobbyist is supposed to do nowadays - told Nethercutt he would have to pay for his own dinner. Only problem: the bash was held in Johnson's home. So they quickly had to figure out Nethercutt's (and his wife's) $50 share of the home-delivered ribs-and-coleslaw dinner.

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One unkindest cut deserves another. So Nethercutt toasted his old friend Ferguson by saying, according to the Washington Post, that he had proved his devotion by paying ''for this dumb dinner.''

If Aesop were jotting this down, his moral might be: New laws are firmly fixed when people love to joke about observing them, but do observe them to the letter.

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