Drop­ping sym­bolic votes raises a howl

In­ter­est groups see aware­ness value

The Washington Times Daily - - Politics - BY PAIGE WIN­FIELD CUN­NING­HAM

Look­ing to clear space on the leg­isla­tive cal­en­dar for more im­por­tant work, House Repub­li­cans promised last year to ban purely com­mem­o­ra­tive leg­is­la­tion, like res­o­lu­tions hon­or­ing sports teams or des­ig­nat­ing aware­ness days — but that seem­ingly in­nocu­ous move has left some groups frus­trated.

“This is a piece of pa­per but it’s huge in our world of ed­u­ca­tion,” said Linda Re­in­stein, co-founder of the Los An­gles­based As­bestos Dis­ease Aware­ness Or­ga­ni­za­tion. Af­ter work­ing with the Se­nate for nearly a decade to pass res­o­lu­tions call­ing at­ten­tion to as­bestos, she said a stamp of ap­proval from Congress is an in­valu­able tool to ed­u­cate peo­ple about its dan­gers.

“That gives us lever­age to raise aware­ness,” she said. “For us, it’s huge.”

Be­fore the ban, the House typ­i­cally de­voted the first few days each week it was in ses­sion to pass­ing sym­bolic res­o­lu­tions: Giv­ing of­fi­cial recog­ni­tion to things like the fa­bled Bat­tle of Marathon or the 50th an­niver­sary of the Miles Davis clas­sic “Kind of Blue.”

But af­ter vot­ers handed them the ma­jor­ity in 2010, Repub­li­cans said the prac­tice was silly, waste­ful and not what the Found­ing Fa­thers in­tended.

“I do not sus­pect that Jef­fer­son or Madi­son ever en­vi­sioned Congress hon­or­ing the 2,560th an­niver­sary of the birth of Con­fu­cius or sup­port­ing the des­ig­na­tion of na­tional ‘Pi’ day,” Ma­jor­ity Leader Eric Can­tor wrote in a let­ter to col­leagues at the time.

The sym­bolic votes went on as usual in the Se­nate in 2011, but the lower cham­ber fell in line with Mr. Can­tor: the House usu­ally passes more than 400 res­o­lu­tions each year, it ap­proved 132 in 2011.

Some feel the House should have drawn a dis­tinc­tion be­tween res­o­lu­tions that rec­og­nize a lo­cal ac­com­plish­ment — like con­grat­u­lat­ing a sports team — and res­o­lu­tions that could help an ad­vo­cacy group fur­ther their mes­sage or give honor to a U.S. ally.

Frus­trated with the sit­u­a­tion, Joseph Grano blasted out an email last week af­ter the D.C. City Coun­cil of­fi­cially rec­og­nized the 150th an­niver­sary of Italy’s uni­fi­ca­tion. Pres­i­dent of the Rhodes Tav­ern-dc Her­itage So­ci­ety, the Ital­ian-amer­i­can ac­tivist was up­set that the ban pre­vented the House from do­ing the same.

Mr. Grano feels Italy de­serves recog­ni­tion be­cause the coun­try has been a NATO ally for decades, hosts nu­mer­ous U.S. mil­i­tary bases and sent troops to Afghanistan af­ter 9/11. And the White House, the Capi­tol and the Supreme Court all bear the in­flu­ence of Ital­ian ar­chi­tec­ture, he added.

He feels so strongly about the mat­ter that he pick­eted out­side the Capi­tol build­ing last fall, he said.

“The House GOP lead­er­ship in its at­tempt to ban friv­o­lous res­o­lu­tions from com­ing to a vote has also frus­trated at­tempts to in­tro­duce mean­ing­ful res­o­lu­tions — a clear ex­am­ple of throw­ing out the baby with the bath water,” he said.

De­spite the ban, some law­mak­ers have con­tin­ued to in­tro­duce res­o­lu­tions. Even though they aren’t voted on, they’re still added to the public record and law­mak­ers are oc­ca­sion­ally al­lowed to tout them on the House floor.

That’s enough to sat­isfy most con­stituents back home said Amanda Fitzger­ald, di­rec­tor of public pol­icy for the Amer­i­can School Coun­selor As­so­ci­a­tion (ASCA).

“Truth­fully, if you tell the av­er­age per­son out there the House bill has a num­ber but it didn’t pass, peo­ple don’t un­der­stand the in­tri­ca­cies of it, peo­ple say no, it doesn’t re­ally mat­ter,” she said. “The same pur­pose is go­ing through with it.”

Ms. Fitzger­ald worked with the Se­nate last year when it passed a res­o­lu­tion des­ig­nat­ing Feb. 7-11 as Na­tional School Coun­sel­ing Week. She said she also shopped the idea around in the House de­spite the ban and although it was dif­fi­cult to gain GOP sup­port, she per­suaded Rep. Linda T. Sanchez, Cal­i­for­nia Demo­crat, to spon­sor it.

To Ms. Fitzger­ald, the real ben­e­fits of a com­mem­o­ra­tive res­o­lu­tion come in work­ing with con­gres­sional staff to draft it, whether or not it is ul­ti­mately passed. It gives ASCA key con­tacts in Washington and an op­por­tu­nity to in­flu­ence them on other pol­icy goals. And, it’s an­other notch in the belt, she said.

“I think it means a lot to our mem­bers and the ac­tual prac­ti­tion­ers out there,” she said. “To say that Congress took the time to des­ig­nate this week and rec­og­nize the hard work they do. It’s cer­tainly a PR piece for the most part.”

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