The Speaker’s Lobby: Spiked

By: Chad Pergram, FOX News

15 October 2009

Remember on Sesame Street when they’d do the segment “Which of these things is not like the others?”

They’d show one group of kids, all jumping rope. And then another child, doing his own thing, playing football.

Well, time to play that same game again. Only Congressional style. Select the item below that doesn’t match the others.

The Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity. National Work and Family Month. John William Heisman. The University of California-Irvine men’s volleyball team. The Apollo moon landing. Rep. John Dingell (D-MI). And the University of Florida Gators.

The House of Representatives has voted to honor all of these people and events this year.

Except one.

The House commemorated the 98th anniversary of Kappa Alpha Psi. It voted in support of October as National Work and Family Month. Lawmakers doffed their hats to John William Heisman for his contributions to the game of football. The House marked the 40th anniversary of the moon landing. It saluted John Dingell for becoming the longest-serving House member. And the House congratulated the University of Florida for winning the national championship in college football.

Like Florida, the UC Irvine Anteaters men’s volleyball team won the national championship in their sport, too. But the House won’t fete its players, the same way it voted to honor Kappa Alpha Psi, National Work and Family Month, John William Heisman, the moon shot, John Dingell and the Florida Gators.

That’s not to say the House wasn’t planning on glorifying the Anteaters. It was.

Rep. John Campbell (R-CA) represents UC Irvine. He authored what’s called a “suspension” bill to laud the school for winning the men’s volleyball national title. Suspension bills are reserved for non-controversial legislation that doesn’t require much debate and will usually secure overwhelming support from House members.

What happens is the House “suspends the rules” required to handle most pieces of legislation and fast-tracks these bills to the floor. In exchange, the House grants only limited debate time to these measures and requires a two-thirds vote for passage. Bona fide policy issues are periodically considered as suspension bills. But the suspension process is tailored to name post offices and congratulate athletic teams. Like UC Irvine.

However, it was one of those pesky policy issues that the House planned to consider as a suspension bill that helped derail Congressional recognition for the volleyball team.

Two weeks ago, the House was poised to consider a water recycling bill for the Bay area near San Francisco. Crafted by Rep. George Miller (D-CA), the plan would recycle 2.6 billion gallons of water in Contra Costa County and cities like Petaluma and Palo Alto.

Like the UC Irvine Anteaters, Miller thought he was serving an ace. But House Republicans leaped to the net and stuff-blocked Miller’s bill.

The vote on Miller’s legislation was 240 to 170, well above the majority necessary to approve most bills. But because Miller expected his plan to be non-controversial, the House considered it as a suspension. So it needed a two-thirds supermajority to pass. And with 410 House members voting, Miller’s water bill fell well short of the 273 voted required.

Miller seethed. He accused John Campbell and Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) of helping organize a blockade against his legislation.

California is mired in a water crisis. And lawmakers like Campbell from southern California and Nunes, from the agricultural-rich San Joaquin Valley, thought it was only fair that the House direct water assistance to other regions of the state besides the Bay area. Campbell fretted that Miller’s legislation could slash water supplies to his part of the state.

So, Miller drew up a crosscourt spike of his own. Miller chairs the House Education and Labor Committee. With the blessing of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), he controls what bills pertaining to education make their way to the House floor. So since UC Irvine is a university, Miller exacted his revenge on Campbell by yanking the bill praising the volleyball team from the House schedule. When asked by FOX about why Miller pulled the bill, his spokeswoman said “that’s just the way it goes.” Campbell says Miller told him this was payback for engineering the effort against his measure.

The Campbell-Miller spat infuriates UC Irvine men’s volleyball coach John Speraw.

“It’s crazy,” Speraw said. “Maybe Miller and Campbell have something going on. I’d prefer that they take care of it without hurting anybody.”

But Speraw held particular contempt for Miller since he chairs the Education panel.

“It makes it seem to me it’s even more petty on George Miller’s part,” Speraw said.

Since Miller failed to get the House to approve his water bill late last month as a suspension, he had to go through the regular process to resuscitate his legislation. That entailed a visit to the House Rules Committee, the panel that serves as the gateway to the House floor.

“This bill got sideways on the road on a partisan vote,” Miller told the Rules Committee.

But there, Nunes and Rep. George Radanovich (R-CA) met Miller. The pair formulated four water and irrigation amendments that they wanted to hook onto Miller’s Bay area bill when it comes to the House floor.

But the duo also had a fifth amendment in mind: a proclamation honoring the UC Irvine men’s volleyball squad.

The amendment extolled everyone from players like Ryan Ammerman, Taylor “Bones” Wilson and Carson Clark for their play on the court to UC Irvine Chancellor Michael Drake for his leadership of the university.

The top GOPer on the Rules Committee, Rep. David Dreier (R-CA) expressed concern to Miller about his decision to torpedo the volleyball resolution.

“I just don’t get why I get a kick in the pants,” Miller answered. “So the idea to go up and gratuitously kick me in the pants…I don’t get it.”

Nunes then appealed to the Rules Committee that it attach his water amendments to Miller’s bill. He noted that the panel defeated him before.

“You’ve shot me down every time,” Nunes argued.

“That happens with non-germane amendments,” snapped Rules Committee Chairwoman Louise Slaughter (D-NY).

Meaning that if certain water-related amendments were non-germane to a water bill, surely an amendment honoring a volleyball team strayed too far from the primary subject matter, too.

Wonder how the UC Irvine amendment would have fared if it honored a team that played an aquatic sport, like water polo.

The committee went on to exclude the water amendments. And the volleyball amendment, too.

Coach John Speraw seemed even more exasperated Wednesday night that the House quashed yet another effort to salute the Anteaters.

“You would like the people who represent us to do the right thing,” Speraw said. “The right thing is to honor this team.”

So this year, the House has commemorated the canonization of Father Damien de Veuster to sainthood, recognized the strip of land running from Manhattan, KS, to Columbia, MO, as the “Animal Health Corridor” and saluted Pat Summitt for her stewardship of the University of Tennessee women’s basketball team.

But there’s a drought in California. Not just one involving water. But one congratulating the UC Irvine men’s volleyball team for its national championship And John Speraw just wants Congress to recognize his team’s achievement.

“These guys are innocent bystanders to a water bill,” Speraw huffed. “It’s absurd.”

– Chad Pergram covers Congress for FOX News. He’s won an Edward R. Murrow Award and the Joan Barone Award for his reporting on Capitol Hill.

–  The Speaker’s Lobby refers to a long, ornate hallway that runs behind the dais of the House chamber. Lawmakers, aides and journalists often confer there during votes.