While the nation celebrated a symbolic holiday, the Washington Post published a story about how the U.S. House of Representatives, under the leadership of the GOP, has lost its taste for legislation that is purely symbolic.
Last year, the Post pointed out, the House spent time passing 250 pieces of such important legislation as bills “honoring everything from the Battle of Marathon in 490 B.C. to the Interfraternity Council/Panhellenic Dance Marathon at Penn State University.”
Often such bills are proposed and passed with little discussion. After all, there is little political gains to be had in voting against a bill designating Multiple Sclerosis Awareness Week. Awareness is a good thing, and a commemorative resolution passed by the nation’s representative body raises awareness. The country has no shortage of people who deserve recognition and congratulations.
Congress is not a public relations firm, however. It has more concrete work to accomplish — work that constituents believe is being neglected. As important as “bees and pollinators are to our ecosystem,” passing a bill in their honor doesn’t do anything to protect them, and the time spent passing a resolution recognizing them is time that could be spent actually accomplishing something — especially if lawmakers were inclined toward actual accomplishments.
Some years, though, there’s little to be had but symbolism. Although the House is under Republican control, the Senate remains in the hands of Democrats, so many hours are spent proposing, debating and passing bills that won’t get past the other chamber.
The House is populated entirely by people who barely have time to find their seats before they must start running for re-election. So they propose bills they cannot enact, partly to bring attention to issues they truly believe are important to the future of the nation, and partly as a barely coded message reminding constituents that their loyal representatives in Party A are patriots and the members of that other party are obstructionists and obfuscators. They approve programs they have no ability or intention to fund. They can appease their constituents with with ill-advised legislation they know they can’t pass and that therefore need not be crafted in a way that would allow a program to function. They posture in various other ways, all of them intended to make a statement rather than any real progress.
All of that is purely symbolic, and voters are losing patience. They don’t mind commemorative resolutions nearly as much as they mind campaign rhetoric disguised as public service. They are frustrated with partisan politics, but they are also frustrated with the excuses they continue to hear. Beyond the Beltway, when ordinary Americans see that Plan A is going nowhere, they don’t have the luxury of shrugging and blaming their opponents. They have to devise another plan and make it work.
Congratulatory bills are the least of Washington’s problems, but they are symbolic of what’s wrong there. We’ll see if legislators actually understand that, or if they’ll just find a way to do the same old thing and call it something else.