WASHINGTON -- In a kind of legislative throat-clearing, lawmakerskicked off the new Congress last week by introducing dozens of oddballbills that have no chance of becoming law -- they are merely intended toget our attention.
Rep. Jose Serrano, D-N.Y., proposedeliminating presidential term limits; Republican Rep. Paul Broun ofGeorgia offered a bill to return the United States to a currency tied togold; and a handful of bills were proposed to cut congressional pay,pensions and other benefits.
Many of the 200 or so billsintroduced in the first two days of the 113th Congress are simply newversions of old legislation that went nowhere in previous sessions ofCongress. Most of these bills generally appear intended to make apolitical point, not make new law.
For instance, Serrano'sterm-limits bill -- which he has introduced in every Congress since 1997-- would have to be approved by the Congress, then ratified bythree-fourths of the states to repeal the constitutional amendment thatlimited presidents to two terms.
On the other side of thepolitical spectrum, Rep. Rob Woodall, a Georgia Republican, introduced ameasure Thursday to eliminate the IRS, do away with income taxes andcreate instead a national consumption tax. Woodall seems to recognizethat the bill is not going anywhere - his measure of progress is that hehas more co-sponsors on the bill this time than in previous years -but, he said, "the momentum is building for fundamental tax reform, andit's fueled by the American people."
Broun's bill to put thenation back on the gold standard was one of two bills he introduced lastweek that had been championed by Rep. Ron Paul, who retired fromCongress after losing his second bid for the Republican presidentialnomination.
In laying out his priorities for the new Congress,Broun wanted to start by championing some of Paul's favorite bills,because he "didn't want them to die down," spokeswoman MeredithGriffanti said. "Moving forward, my plan is to pick up right whereCongressman Paul left off," Broun said in a statement.
Rep.Barbara Lee of California and a handful of other liberal Democratsproposed a bill to repeal the 2001 congressional authorization for theuse of military force to respond to the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Lee,who was the only member of Congress to vote against the originalauthorization, said in a statement, "Over the last 11 years, this broadauthorization of force has had far-reaching implications which shake thevery foundations of our great nation and democracy," includingwarrantless wiretaps and "borderless and open-ended war that threatensto indefinitely extend U.S. military engagement around the world."
Rep.Walter Jones, R-N.C., introduced a bill to eliminate a 1954 law thatprohibits non-profit organizations from directly endorsing or opposingpolitical candidates, a prohibition that Jones contends was designed toshut churches and pastors out of politics and violates their FirstAmendment rights.
Jones has introduced version of the samelegislation for years, and Jones spokeswoman Catherine Fodor said thatis part of why he raised it again on the first day of the 113thCongress. "It's something he has worked on for a long time, and hewanted to get it out there and generate as much support as he can," shesaid.
A large part of a member of Congress' job is to "take aposition on things," said Don Kettl, dean of the School of PublicPolicy at the University of Maryland.
The opening days of a newCongress become the perfect time to announce positions because "there isnot a whole lot of news to compete with" and the statement may actuallyget some attention, Kettl said. "It is a way to signal to people backhome that 'I am working on things,' " and to highlight issues theirrepresentative is concerned about, even if the bills are destined to gonowhere, he said.
There is some symbolic value to be the first bill of the congressional session.
Rep.Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., announced on Twitter that she had introducedthe first bill of the 113th Congress to repeal Obamacare, and some newsoutlets interpreted that to mean that hers was the first bill of thenew Congress. It was not.
That honor belongs to Rep. Jim Moran,D-Va., who introduced legislation to impose new gun controls that heclaims even most National Rifle Association members support, such asmandatory background checks for all gun sales and gun shop employees.The bill is H.R. 21 - bill numbers 1-20 have not yet been assigned. Thefirst 10 are reserved for majority leadership to attach to theirpriority bills; the next 10 are for minority leadership.