Grano: Curb Debate, Not Ceremonial Measures

The front page of the July 15 edition of the Washington Times demonstrates with statistics that this Congress has been one of the least productive in recent history. As of June 30, “the 66 bills passed [by the House] is the second-fewest since World War II, and the 14 bills signed into law is third worst.”

In light of this lack of productivity in the House, how ironic it is that Republicans leaders decided in the name of efficiency to prohibit ceremonial resolutions from coming to a vote.

The rationale: such measures distract from the real work of Congress, which I presume is to pass legislation.

As a person who last year successfully urged Members of the House and Senate to introduce ceremonial resolutions on behalf of two of the greatest luminaries of Western civilization — astronomer Galileo and architect Andrea Palladio — I believe that this type of resolution has a proper role. If the House and Senate cannot pass much legislation, they can at least pass worthwhile resolutions.

The two underlying assumptions of the House ban seem to be that such ceremonial resolutions are frivolous and serve no legitimate purpose, and that voting on such resolutions is a waste of valuable House time. Neither is valid.

Ceremonial resolutions by Congress are not all trivial (though, admittedly, some are). They serve a useful purpose by giving recognition, by our highest federal body, to significant anniversaries of important individuals and events.

We should expect and, indeed, demand that our national legislature uphold and validate the individuals and events that have advanced our civilization.

Unfortunately, the efforts of the House leadership to stop all ceremonial resolutions from coming to a vote because some are inconsequential is truly a case of throwing the baby out with the bath water.

A resolution that has been proposed to Members of the House this year and which has not been introduced, most probably because of the ban, is recognition of the 150th anniversary of Italian unity.

In 1861, as our country became divided, Italy became a united country for the first time in more than a thousand years. Would it not be completely appropriate and beneficial in maintaining good relations with Italy for our Congress to acknowledge this noteworthy anniversary of one of our most important and loyal allies, an ally who, I might add, has sent its troops to Afghanistan in support of our efforts there?

It is not the actual voting on of such resolutions that wastes the time of the House. The resolutions themselves take only seconds to pass, usually by unanimous consent. What needs to be eliminated is the debating of the measures, which can consume more than an hour of time for each resolution.

For noncontroversial resolutions, as almost all are, debate is truly a misuse of valuable time, since no one ever formally objects to them. There is, in fact, nothing to debate. The House is just absentmindedly following an ancient empty ritual that serves no modern purpose.

Here is where the House GOP leadership should be exercising reform: If no Representative formally declares his or her intention to oppose the resolution, then eliminate debate time and proceed with the vote.

With such a reform by the leadership, the House can continue to pass worthy ceremonial resolutions and at the same time reduce the time needed to vote on them.

Joseph N. Grano is chairman of the Constantino Brumidi Society.