The day before the House voted to ban all forms of human cloning last month, Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-N.Y.) made his way to a news conference to promote an alternative that would have allowed cloning for therapeutic purposes.
When asked whether the bipartisan bill had a chance of passing, Crowley answered without hesitation, "Oh, no, it's all a political charade."
Such is life in the House of Representatives, where legislative suspense rarely exists and some members have begun to feel irrelevant. With a powerful administration flexing its political muscle, and a narrowly divided Senate determining the fate of most high-profile bills, House members often struggle to stand out in Washington's political landscape.
Republican leaders insist they remain key players, especially by pushing the House to vote for staunchly conservative positions that, after the inevitable compromises with the Senate, end up fairly close to President Bush's original proposals.
"We're extremely important to the president's agenda," said John Feehery, spokesman for House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.). "We need to put those markers out there, but do it in a way that doesn't expose us unnecessarily."
But some rank-and-file members have become annoyed with such sacrifices, noting that Bush inevitably ends up compromising with the more moderate Senate.
"There's no question the president is tilted toward what the Senate wants, and tilted against what the House has done," groused Rep. Ray LaHood (R-Ill.). "We do all the heavy lifting and fall on our swords [even] when it's not going to be the final product."
Democratic Rep. Barney Frank (Mass.) said the House GOP's loyalty to Bush serves a function, but also makes the chamber less central to significant policy decisions. "The House is counted upon to say 'yes' to everything, and then once it does that, all the questions are decided in the Senate," he said. "It means we have a role, but not on the biggest issues."
To some extent, House Republicans are victims of their own victories. Because they prevailed on so many key issues last year despite their slim six-seat majority (they lost only one major bill, campaign finance reform), most observers assume they can squeeze through any legislation now that there are 24 more Republicans than Democrats. That diminishes media attention to the House, and leaves the Senate as the only forum where votes are often in doubt.
"It's sort of a problem of our own success," said Stuart Roy, spokesman for House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.). "People are not excited about something passing the House, because they just assume we can do it."
It's a dramatic change from 1995, when all eyes were on the House's GOP revolutionaries, led by Newt Gingrich, and President Clinton defensively asserted his own significance at an April news conference.
"The president is relevant, especially an activist president," Clinton declared. "The Constitution gives me relevance; the power of our ideas gives me relevance; the record we have built up over the last two years and the things we're trying to do give me relevance."
House Majority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) acknowledged that his chamber often receives less attention now. But GOP members can take comfort in seeing more of their bills become law, he said, now that Republicans control the Senate and White House, as well as the House.
"This time members are casting these votes with the idea that these things will finally happen," he said. "It is my view we are still driving the agenda."
Much of this year's session resembles a "Greatest Hits" rendition from past Congresses. In recent weeks the House has taken up bills identical to ones passed last year, including a bankruptcy measure and a child abduction bill. Both issues -- which died last year after senators and House members were unable to resolve their differences -- now await Senate action.
Similarly, House members recently voted to limit monetary damages in medical malpractice cases -- the seventh time they have passed such a bill since Republicans took control of the House in 1995. It faces considerable opposition in the Senate.
One week in March, the House considered only one significant bill -- to provide tax benefits to military personnel -- but leaders yanked it after some Republicans balked. Even some Republicans joke about the light floor schedule, filled with such heady stuff as a recent resolution to commemorate the late children's TV celebrity Fred Rogers.
On the diplomatic front, the House's biggest stir this year came when Administration Committee Chairman Robert W. Ney (R-Ohio) joined Rep. Walter B. Jones Jr. (R-N.C.) in removing the word "French" from House restaurant menus and inserting "Freedom" before "fries" and "toast."
If House Republicans are feeling a bit tangential, consider the plight of House Democrats. They report for work and offer amendments, only to see them routinely rejected on party-line votes.
"Almost the most frustrating job in politics is being a minority member in the House of Representatives," said John Pitney, a political science professor at Claremont McKenna College in Claremont, Calif. "You can watch, you can comment, you can scream, but you can do very little."
Things have gotten so grim that House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) recently fulminated on the floor, questioning why his party was barred from offering an alternative to the GOP's medical malpractice bill. "This side of the aisle represents 140 million Americans," he told the presiding officer, "and you have shut them up today, and you shut them up last week, and you may be considering shutting us up next week."