Capitol Hill has been a busy place lately. Of course, the elephant in the room accompanying any mention of Congress at the moment is the proposed health care reform. The America’s Affordable Health Choices Act of 2009 has been winding its way through various House committees and subcommittees. Several media pundits have argued that the health care bill could cement or cripple the legacy of President Obama’s administration. To put it lightly, the 535 members of Congress have a lot on their plates right now. So what are they doing voting on legislation “honoring the life, achievements, and contributions of Paul Newman”?
The Paul Newman resolution was proposed in the House in February of this year and was quickly agreed to by a voice vote. Its sole function is to acknowledge that Paul Newman was a laudable actor, humanitarian and “automobile racing enthusiast.” Granted, Paul Newman did command an extraordinary presence in both the entertainment and philanthropic worlds; he was awarded the Cecil B. DeMille Award for Lifetime Achievement in 1984, an honorary Academy Award in 1986 and the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award in 1994. Congress’ posthumous recognition of his work, however, was both superfluous and out of place.
The Paul Newman resolution is not a unique bill, however. Congress introduced a resolution in February 2009 recognizing the contributions of jazz musician Lionel Hampton to American music. In June, a resolution congratulated the American Kennel Club on its 125th anniversary. Remember the U.S. Airways flight that made an emergency landing in the Hudson River last January? That feat was heroic enough to garner two resolutions: one honoring the crew and passengers and one commending the efforts of the pilot. The 111th Congress has also passed 26 resolutions calling for the U.S. Postal Service to issue a variety of commemorative stamps, including one honoring America’s barbers.
For a government body that is often castigated as plodding and inefficient, Congress is not helping itself by clogging the floor with feel-good, empty legislation (the resolutions mentioned above are only a taste). Every year, countless bills are relegated to committees and ultimately abandoned. Congress could cut down significantly on the extra baggage of these dead bills if it allocated less time to recognition resolutions.
In addition, members of Congress could make significant progress in dispelling the perception that they are focused primarily on re-election. Unnecessary resolutions are often little more than poorly disguised constituent-pleasers. Sure, in some instances, they may work. Acknowledging the 50th anniversary of Detroit’s Motown Records might win the Michigan representatives extra brownie points. But shedding some of the nonsense resolutions and concentrating on more critical tasks will probably also do the trick.
Supporters of Congress in this area might argue that the Senate and the House are acting as the voice of the American people. Defending those resolutions that honor the armed forces or other individuals who directly protect or better our nation is certainly a valid task. But Congress needs to use more discretion in selecting subjects of recognition. It can, and should, applaud the men and women who protect the United States. It can even acknowledge the achievements of trailblazers in government with congratulatory resolutions. But it should leave the admiration of Paul Newman to Hollywood.
Carolyn Shanahan is a sophomore in the College and a staff writer for The Hoya.
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