Commemorative moments taking up a lot less time
About a month before Election Day in 2010, John Boehner gave a speech at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank, about congressional reform. Soon after that speech, Boehner"s Republican Party commandingly won control of the U.S. House of Representatives and he was elevated to House Speaker.
His speech outlined why he saw Congress as a broken body and his vision for fixing it. One way, he said, was to dispatch with ceremonial time-wasters and get down to business.
"With all the challenges facing our nation, it is absurd that Congress spends so much time on naming post offices, congratulating sports teams, and celebrating the birthdays of historical figures,” he said. "Now, I know the drill: members get good press opportunities back home and leaders get cover while stalling on the people's priorities. But often these resolutions are poorly drafted, or duplicative of previously considered bills. And under both parties they've received little or no oversight. It's my view that we should consider taking all these commemorative moments and special honors, and handle them during special orders and one-minute speeches. It's time to focus on doing what we were sent here to do.”
We contacted the office of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, who is one rank below Boehner in the House leadership structure. His office is in charge of setting the floor agenda.
Cantor's press secretary, Megan Whittemore, pointed us to new House rules, which say in part, "The Republican Leader shall not schedule ... any bill or resolution for consideration under suspension of the Rules which … expresses appreciation, commends, congratulates, celebrates, recognizes the accomplishments of, or celebrates the anniversary of, an entity, event, group, individual, institution, team or government program; or acknowledges or recognizes a period of time for such purposes.”
"We don't schedule, and the House hasn't passed, commemoratives this Congress,” Whittemore said.
We did find news reports about a resolution passed in both houses of Congress this summer, honoring the victims of the movie theater shooting in Aurora, Colo. But this story from a Jewish publication lamented that the House declined, the same day, to pass a resolution calling for a moment of silence for the Israeli athletes murdered at the 1972 Olympics.
"Eric's (Cantor) a friend and he was sympathetic and offered to do a letter with me or a press conference, but he felt that since they had this prohibition that he couldn't make an exception,” U.S. Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. Republicans "can't say that they were for it because they wouldn't vote on it.”
The report said that a Cantor spokesperson confirmed that Cantor affirmed that he would not violate the House leadership's rules.
Finally, we note this Washington Post story from July 2011 comparing the previous year's glut of commemorative resolutions. "The House's new Republican leaders have stopped these resolutions, saying they distract from the real work of Congress,” the Post said.
Though there may be isolated exceptions, we find that the House has adhered to this pledge. We rate it a Promise Kept.
Rules of the House Republican Conference for the 112th Congress, adopted Dec. 8, 2010
Email interview with Megan Whittemore, press secretary for Eric Cantor, Nov. 5, 2012
JTA, "House leadership, following ban on commemorative resolutions, blocks Munich 11 vote,” July 26, 2012
Huffington Post, "Aurora Shooting Victims Honored In House Resolution,” July 26, 2012
Washingon Post, "With Republican majority, House loses its resolve for symbolic legislation,” July 3, 2011