CAPITAL HILL – The House and Senate Rules Committees both reduced penalties for legislators celebrating on the chamber floors. Effective immediately, Senators and Representatives can “express their joy, their individuality, and frankly celebrate the process,” Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) explained. “We’re sick of being called ‘sad!’ and ‘failing!’ all the time. We want people to have fun watching Congress again.”
Restrictions on celebrations stem from an altercation over 30 years ago. Senators Ted Kennedy (D-MA), Joe Biden (D-DE) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT), also known as the “The Fun Bunch,” regularly coordinated celebratory high-five leaps. Tensions boiled over in 1983, when Senators Jesse Helms (R-NC) and John Porter East (R-NC) took issue with the group’s antics. The duo physically interrupted a Fun Bunch jump with Representative Katie Hall (D-IN) as Reagan signed the Martin Luther King Holiday Bill. Their ensuing scuffle prompted Congress to forbid excessive celebrations and kicked off the crackdown on fun.
Regulations soon expanded beyond banning choreographed moves. Prohibitions on prolonged celebrations followed 82-year-old Senator Strom Thurmond’s (R-SC) delay of proceedings by pretending to snuggle up with a bill and take a six-hour nap. Congress also banned the use of foreign objects in 2006. Blame for that regulatory overreach likely falls on Representative Peter King (R-NY), who used a novelty fence cutout to celebrate passing the Secure Fence Act. Despite best intentions, more rules may have led to less satisfaction from legislators and voters alike.
Increased complexity and subjective enforcement upset constituents. Congressional fans have opposed expansive rules because they slow down bill-passing and make the process less fun to watch. Earlier this year, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) was not penalized when she slapped an amendment out of the hands of Representative David Nunes (R-CA). Because she pantomimed shooting the felled document and digging it a grave, however, Nunes got the amendment back and 15 extra minutes of speaking time. “That call never would have happened if it had been [House Majority Leader Paul] Ryan instead of Pelosi,” complained a Democratic strategist. Indeed, CSPAN blames discontent over officiating for gradually declining viewership. Now, though, fans have reasons to be excited once again.
Relaxed rules will permit using bills as props and premeditated group celebrations. Under the new rules, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell would not have received a penalty for grabbing the 2,232 pages of the omnibus spending bill and and throwing them in the air to imitate Lebron James’s “chalk toss.” Sources report rumors that several groups are already practicing. Gushed one Politico reporter, “I can’t wait to see Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee mimic the ‘see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil’ three wise monkeys!”