The Games They Play

By Mark T. Mitchell for FRONT PORCH REPUBLIC
nancy pelosi

Kearneysville, WV. According to a story from the Associated Press, freshman Congressman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) thinks the U.S. House of Representatives spends too much time passing frivolous resolutions.

Things came to a head when a proposal was made to memorialize the start of the 142nd season at the Saratoga race course in New York. Speaking on the house floor, Rep. Chaffetz declared the proposal “an embarrassment.” But this sort of thing is not unusual. Only this year the House has honored such figures as Phil Mickelson, the Chicago Blackhawks, Jimmie Johnson, and the Penn State woman’s volleyball team. After Chaffetz delivered his incensed speech, the resolution passed 396-14. Clearly, his words pricked a few consciences, for such measures generally pass unanimously.

According to the article,

Every week the House spends a couple of days churning out such non-controversial bills. Beyond honoring sports achievements, they name post offices, praise armed service members, mourn distinguished people who’ve died and recognize historic anniversaries. This year the House has come together to support national pollinator week, national dairy month and national train day.

Apparently Chaffetz only recently saw the light, for he willing went along with earlier resolutions. He has decided that when the object of the bill is an athlete (or a racetrack), he can’t in good conscience go along with the crowd.

Chaffetz, in an interview, said he’s got nothing against recognizing worthwhile causes such as breast cancer awareness, “but there are too many of them and they’re just too frivolous.” He said he drew the line at sports bills because athletes already get “more than their fair share of accolades.”

It is nice to know that a congressman has limits. While he is perfectly happy recognizing worthy causes like breast cancer awareness and national pollinator week, resolutions recognizing athletes are “too frivolous.” He can tolerate frivolity but only in moderation. But what, exactly, makes a resolution recognizing national pollinator month worthy (not too frivolous) and one honoring an athlete too frivolous? Of course, the congressman can’t make a constitutional argument, for there is none to be made. In light of the U.S. Constitution, all such resolutions are not only frivolous but they exceed the proper role of the Congress.

Since the constitutional argument is ignored (apparently, like the Constitution itself) Chaffetz finds himself on shaky ground. His reason for voting against resolutions honoring athletes? They already get “more than their fair share.” Well. The principled Constitutional argument sits by the wayside while the good Congressman trots out this bit about fairness. Athletes get plenty of accolades, so Congress doesn’t need to give them any more. By this logic, part of the business of Congress is to sprinkle accolades around like pixie dust making sure that no one gets more than his or her fair share. James Madison, where are you?

Apparently, the pressure to vote for these resolutions is truly oppressive. D.C. Delegate, Eleanor Holmes Norton, the manager of the race track bill, issued a stern rebuke that in its stilted formality almost sounds like a threat: “It ill behooves the other side to trivialize a bill by a member.” Under such a tongue-lashing, Chaffetz finally settled on a clear principle, never mind the fact that it has nothing to do with the Constitution and it blatantly contradicts his concerns about fairness:

He said his personal rule was to vote only for sports resolutions honoring teams that had actually won a championship.

But haven’t these champions already received plenty of accolades?

One Congressman, Jason Altmire (D-PA) voted against the race track resolution; nevertheless, he thinks there are good reasons that such bills are part of the Congressional docket. They “get lawmakers to the House floor so they can talk with one another and their party leaders.” Wouldn’t free coffee and doughnuts accomplish the same thing? Furthermore, if deliberation is part of the democratic process, shouldn’t we simply expect our elected representatives to voluntarily assemble and deliberate? Apparently some incentives are needed and frivolous bills that make every look and feel good are just the ticket.

It’s stories like this one that fuel the outrage among voters. The Tea Party is just the most visible element of a groundswell of frustration and disgust directed at Washington. When good men like Chaffetz, who obviously is attempting to do the right thing, can’t offer any more compelling reason for his stand than a incoherent appeal to fairness, we have good reason to concerned. When the U.S. Congress spends part of its time congratulating athletes and commemorating race tracks and the other part squandering our children’s money to gratify the desires of the moment, they are, to mix images, handing out bread and circuses while Rome burns. We all have good reason to be upset. And very worried.

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