The Man Upstairs Is in the House

By Dana Milbank
Wednesday, July 19, 2006

The House of Representatives could not have been any more obvious if the sergeant-at-arms had wheeled an equine carcass into the well and the speaker had pummeled it with his gavel.

Yesterday's House debate on same-sex marriage was pure dead horse: The Senate last month rejected -- emphatically -- a constitutional amendment that would allow Congress to ban same-sex marriage, so there was zero chance the amendment could be approved this year. But members of the House were answering to a Higher Authority.

"It's part of God's plan for the future of mankind," explained Rep. John Carter (R-Tex.).

Rep. Bob Beauprez (R- Colo.) also found "the very hand of God" at work. "We best not be messing with His plan."

Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) agreed that "it wasn't our idea, it was God's."

"I think God has spoken very clearly on this issue," said Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-Ga.), a mustachioed gynecologist who served as one of the floor leaders yesterday. When somebody quarreled with this notion, Gingrey replied: "I refer the gentleman to the Holy Scriptures."

Democrats and a couple of sympathetic Republicans wondered whether, with the House planning to spend just five more weeks in session for the rest of the year, their colleagues were fiddling while Beirut burns.

"We have a conflagration in the Middle East, we have raised the debt ceiling four times to $9 trillion, and this is how the Republican congressional leadership chooses to spend its time?" demanded an agitated Rep. James Moran (D-Va.).

"Let's be honest," said Rep. Jim Kolbe (Ariz.), the chamber's only openly gay Republican. "This bill has been brought to the House floor by the leadership solely because of election-year politics." Citing an "affront to this institution," he pointed out that "this same legislation was considered in the Senate, where it didn't even receive a majority vote, much less the required two-thirds."

Kolbe's math was correct. The Senate managed just 49 votes for the measure, an increase of only one from a 2004 effort, despite the gain of four GOP seats. Yesterday, the House, in a 236 to 187 vote, managed to improve slightly on its 2004 performance but, to nobody's surprise, fell short of passage by 46 votes.

By election-year calculations, that was a victory. "I view today's vote as a successful failure," Pence announced at a defeat rally after the vote.

That's because so much of the legislative agenda this year is about making points, not policy. The Senate yesterday passed legislation to expand embryonic stem-cell research, even thought it faces a presidential veto. While the House was debating marriage yesterday, a Judiciary subcommittee held a hearing titled "Should We Embrace the Senate's Grant of Amnesty to Millions of Illegal Aliens and Repeat the Mistakes of the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986?" Tomorrow, the House takes up legislation to protect the Pledge of Allegiance.

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