Resolution Revolution?: House GOP Leader Proposes Dropping Symbolic Statements

House resolutions, which are intended to be symbolic and honorific in nature, have become weapons in the Religious Right’s war against church-state separation. So let’s get rid of them.

Republicans will take control of the House of Representatives in January. Now comes the hard part: figuring out how to govern.

U.S. Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), whom everybody acknowledges will be the next House majority leader, has issued a list of 22 proposals he would like to see enacted. Some of them are legislative in nature (such as repealing the health-care bill) and others concern the internal workings of the House.

One item jumped out at me. Cantor believes the House spends too much time dealing with symbolic resolutions honoring people, events and places.

In a letter to his fellow Republicans, Cantor wrote, “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. I also do not believe that there is a groundswell of public enthusiasm demanding that Congress act on these sorts of resolutions. Instead, I believe people want our time, energy, and efforts focused on their priorities.” (This conservative Web site has the full text of the letter.)

Cantor goes on to propose the elimination of “expressions of appreciation and recognition for individuals, groups, events, and institutions.”

I hope Cantor is including all resolutions here, not just ones tied to specific people or events. If so, I have to say I couldn’t agree more with his proposal. Not only do these resolutions take up Congress’ time, some of them are divisive and advance the Religious Right’s agenda.

In 2009, for example, U.S. Rep. Randy Forbes introduced a “Spiritual Heritage Week” resolution studded with bogus “Christian nation” history and other dubious assertions. While this monstrosity never passed the House, it became a rallying point for the Religious Right and another front in the “culture war.”

Forbes also sponsored a separate resolution lauding a Bible once owned by Abraham Lincoln. He filled the resolution with more anti-separation claptrap.

Do you sense a pattern here? House resolutions, which are intended to be symbolic and honorific in nature, have become weapons in the Religious Right’s war against church-state separation.

So let’s get rid of them. Sure, it means Congress won’t spend any time recognizing National Brussels Sprouts Day in 2011, but I can live with that. (As a matter of fact, I can live without brussels sprouts, period.)

Will Cantor’s plan to ditch congressional resolutions really come to fruition? Call me skeptical. I am reminded of 1994, the last time a gaggle of aggressive Republicans blew into town and promised to shake up the House.

Their leader was Newt Gingrich, who promised to reform the way the House did business and save taxpayer money. Gingrich toyed with the idea of eliminating the House chaplain to save a few bucks. (It was one of the few times I ever agreed with old Newt.) The Religious Right set up howls of protest, and the idea was quickly dropped. The House retained its chaplain.

I should also note that Cantor has himself sponsored or co-sponsored religious resolutions in the past. But perhaps he’s had a change of heart, and maybe this time things will be different.

Cantor is on to something here. Let’s hope he follows through.