Before the 112th Congress is sworn in, let's review some of the lesser-known activities of the departing 111th. For every high-profile issue on which the House of Representatives votes, there are far more votes that receive scant, if any, publicity. It's a shame, too, because these little-known votes, individually and in combination, serve to illustrate the limited utility of the body and many of those who inhabit it. By far, the House spends the greatest amount of its time on meaningless, boring inanities, but some things do stand out.
In addition to naming scores of Post Offices and officially congratulating multitudes of successful amateur athletes, college teams, and professional sports franchises (all gender-balanced, of course), the current House turned its attention to weightier matters by passing, sometimes unanimously, some very interesting bills and resolutions, most of which were never covered by the media.
For example, on April 29, 2009, by a nearly unanimous vote, the U.S. House of Representatives passed House Resolution 357, "Supporting the goals and ideals of Financial Literacy Month 2009, and for other purposes" (Roll Call No. 217).
This is the same body that, in the prior three months, committed trillions of dollars of American wealth as yet unearned by taxpayers, including by millions of taxpayers yet to be born. It's astonishing that a group of legislators, a majority of whom cannot count well enough to be terrified by the word "trillions," would dare urge the rest of us to become financially literate.
Viewed only on the basis of its unwitting artlessness, the resolution is hilarious.
Despite failing to read the massive bills on which they vote, members periodically pass similar resolutions expressing the sense of the House that Americans should learn to read, too.
The U.S. House of Representatives proves over and over that all of Washington, but especially Capitol Hill, is an irony-free zone. It's not surprising that voters have begun to flush out the place.
Members of Congress are very sentimental about animals, too, and concerned about their welfare.
Consider the ROAM Act. (Note: The medical community does not consider "persistent acronymia" a terminal disease, but merely an annoying one.)
H.R. 1018 passed the House on July 17, 2009, by a vote of 239 to 185 (Roll Call 577).The bill, titled the "Restore Our American Mustangs" Act, is a welfare program for wild mustangs. That's right, welfare for horses. Not only did the House squander time on this matter, but they're willing to squander $700 million of our tax money to fund it.
Among other provisions, the ROAM Act mandates a horse census every two years, provides "enhanced contraception" and birth control for horses, and sets aside an additional 19 million acres of public and private land for wild mustangs.
Frankly, we were unaware that wild mustangs used birth control. The bill is not specific about what forms of birth control the House approved or why it favored those methods. Did members choose equine condoms, chemical methods, or intra-uterine devices? Will stallions or mares be responsible for birth control? Will members of Congress "administer" this new equine policy? Or will American taxpayers be on the hook for a new bureaucracy of horse pimps and procurers on the federal payroll?
An easier, less expensive solution to the wild mustang conundrum can be captured in the following two-word phrase: "Dog food." But when has Congress ever transformed a perceived problem into a revenue stream?
Wait -- it gets better.
Amid the terrible problems of our times -- mounting unemployment, a financial crisis, a declining dollar, two wars, and following the passage of massively expensive, ill-considered, unread, and un-debated spending legislation -- the United States House of Representatives found time to honor a dude who's been dead for more than 2,500 years.
On October 28, 2009, the House passed a resolution marking "the 2,560th anniversary of the birth of Confucius and recognizing his invaluable contributions to philosophy and social and political thought."
Thought? Who thinks of this stuff? And who votes for it? Sadly, pretty much all of them do.
Sometimes it's what members of Congress don't do that provides entertainment.
Members' failure to read bills often allows the revelation of some really funny stuff after bills are signed into law and released for public scrutiny, though one must often get past the outrage to appreciate the humor.
The unread, failed Stimulus Bill contained some knee-slappers. According to various media reports, the Stimulus paid for, among other curious items:
- $25,000 for The Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre in Minneapolis, a group which puts on an annual May Day Parade. Copied from its website, punctuation and all, one of the Theatre's recent productions was titled "balloon balloon balloon, balloon balloon."
- Another $25,000 grant went to Philadelphia's Pig Iron Theatre, which calls itself a "dance-clown-theatre ensemble." The group has staged a production of "Welcome to Yuba City," described by their website as a "cowboy/clown odyssey presenting hilarious fragments of a mythic American desertscape." I doubt "mythic" even begins to describe their portrayal.
And my favorite:
- A $2-million grant was made to extend the Virginia & Truckee Railway, a tourist train line originally built during Nevada's silver mining boom. The grant will allow the line to be extended beyond Mound House, NV, a community housing a number of legal brothels, including the Moonlight Bunny Ranch and the Kit Kat Guest Ranch. One wonders which attractions get more tourist traffic.
So, there you have it: May Day Parades, clowns, and whores -- perfect metaphors for the 111th Congress.
Some members who controlled the last one will return in the next Congress, so much House-cleaning remains to be done.