Congress, honor thyself

If the House of Representatives were a long-running but somewhat stale television show, this might be the point in the production schedule at which nervous producers frantically started writing in bizarre plot twists involving UFOs or people-consuming tomato plants. Maybe throw in a few high-profile cameo appearances by some glitzy, flesh-eating celebrities, just for good measure, and those ratings turn around in no time.

Don’t get me wrong. Some House committees are all cranked up and seem to be making excellent progress on the spending bills, while others are dealing with a host of serious issues ranging from swine flu to piracy on the high seas and Taliban insurgents gathering just outside the gates of Islamabad.

But the House floor this week has been quite another story — a little thin might be the polite way to phrase it.

On Tuesday, members were done for the day at the quite respectable hour of 3:54 p.m. Standing in the Speaker’s Lobby just off the House floor, you had to stand clear lest you get trampled by hundreds of exiting representatives as they hastily, and happily, scampered out of the building like schoolchildren just told that their final class period was canceled because the air conditioning was broken.

Members probably deserved the early out after their knock-down-drag-out debate on H.R. 353 — “Supporting the goals and ideals of Global Youth Service Days.” It passed 424-0. I didn’t follow the debate closely, but I expect most of it focused on getting to the bottom of just what the difference is between “goals” and “ideals.”

Prior to that, the House wrestled with the nuances and intricacies of H.R. 338, a bill “Supporting the goals and ideals of National Community College Month,” which also passed 424-zip.

Congress dislocates arm patting self on back

Perhaps the most scintillating and controversial debate of Tuesday came on H.R. 299, “Expressing the sense of the House of Representatives that public servants should be commended for their dedication and continued service to the Nation during Public Service Recognition Week, May 4 through 10, 2009, and throughout the year.”

After all the heavy legislative lifting of the day, what better way for public servants to top it off than by passing a bill commending themselves for their efforts? For the record, the public service bill passed 419-0, with Republicans Marsha BlackburnMarsha BlackburnTikTok's leader to meet with lawmakers next week Overnight Defense: Trump leaves door open to possible troop increase in Middle East | Putin offers immediate extension of key nuclear treaty Trump leaves door open to possible troop increase in Middle East MORE (Tenn.), John Campbell (Calif.), Mike Conaway (Texas), and Randy NeugebauerRobert (Randy) Randolph NeugebauerCordray announces he's leaving consumer bureau, promotes aide to deputy director GOP eager for Trump shake-up at consumer bureau Lobbying World MORE (Texas) all registering protest votes of “present.”

The following morning, Blackburn took to the House floor and blasted the Democratic leaders for negotiating the details of the controversial cap-and-trade (“cap-and-tax,” to Blackburn) bill behind closed doors while Congress debated “such staggeringly important work as supporting the goals of Public Service Recognition Week and National Train Day.”

“If our environment were in serious peril that could be effectively addressed by the cap-and-tax system, one would think we would be burning our carbon credits debating that bill, not on the suspensions we have passed,” Blackburn said.

Communications director Claude Chafin told me Blackburn voted “present” because she thought the bill was silly and self-congratulatory and “didn’t want to throw out her elbow patting herself on the back.”

Trains and Tar Heels

After a brief timeout debating the Mortgage Reform and Anti-Predatory Lending Act, the House was poised to get right back to the serious stuff, with votes scheduled on that National Train Day Resolution and another one honoring the University of North Carolina basketball team for winning the national championship. I expect we might see a few “present” votes from the Michigan delegation on that one.

Dan Marino’s ground game

With the likes of the Israeli, Afghan and Pakistani presidents — not to mention comedian Rosie O’Donnell (foster care) — there have been plenty of head-turning moments in the Capitol this week. But perhaps the VIP drawing the most attention was Maersk Alabama Capt. Richard Phillips, who had been a captive of pirates, and who appeared Tuesday at a Senate Commerce hearing on piracy on the high seas.

It was the second week in a row on Capitol Hill for Phillips, who appeared last week before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. No idea what his politics are, but team Phillips up with that hero pilot who successfully landed his jet in the Hudson and those Tea Party folks might yet field themselves a 2012 presidential ticket.

Talking about star power, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) was seen blocking for former Miami Dolphins star quarterback Dan Marino as he made his way through the Speaker’s Lobby Tuesday afternoon and scrambled straight toward the second floor Capitol office of House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey (D-Wis.).

It might not be football season yet, but it certainly is the season of appropriations and earmarks. Obey’s folks have not said, but I expect Marino was lobbying for the Dan Marino Foundation’s $2,500,000 earmark request to build a supported-living apartment community for adults with autism in Davie, Fla. According to the Wasserman Schultz’s website, and listed as one of her official earmark requests, the Marino project is designed to help autistic adults lessen their dependence on the government by allowing them to live in a less restrictive environment.

No word on how the meeting with Coach Obey turned out, but before heading into the meeting Fox News House producer Chad Pergram caught up with Marino to advise him that the chairman was a Green Bay Packers fan. Marino smiled and yelled back, “That’s all right.”

Considering Obey could single-handedly call an audible and green light the $2.5 million project without a huddle or coach’s instructions from the sideline, I suspect Marino’s attitude will serve him well in this town.

You can reach Jim Mills at