Silly season on Capitol Hill

Most Americans equate July with independence, fireworks and barbeques. But Congress wants Americans thinking about watermelons, too. A resolution before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee would make July National Watermelon Month.

And fruit apparently isn’t the only thing that deserves recognition. Americans should also celebrate marinas, at least on National Marina Day, which, according to a resolution passed in June, is Aug. 11.

Resolutions like these, which designate days, weeks or months as times of awareness for issues, are nothing new. This year, 143 such resolutions have been proposed. So who’s benefiting? The answer is lobbyists and members of Congress, said David Boaz executive vice president of the Cato Institute, a libertarian nonprofit research foundation.

“Public relation firms and lobbyists want to show tangible results for clients, and a congressional resolution is certainly a tangible result,” Boaz said. “To some extent it’s because it’s easier than actually making people aware.”

Among this year’s resolutions that are still pending as Congress races to get out of town before the holidays are Free Comic Book Day (May 5), Idaho Potato Month (May) and National Funeral Director and Mortician Recognition Day (March 11). Among those approved are National Garden Month (April), Dutch-American Friendship Day (April 19) and Siblings’ Connection Day (March 1).

Sen. Ken Salazar, D-Colo., proposed Siblings’ Connection Day, which supports efforts to preserve sibling relationships among children in foster care. Press secretary Stephanie Valencia said he felt it was important “because Senator Salazar has such a great relationship with his brother,” Rep. John T. Salazar, D-Colo.

Erin Hamm, spokeswoman for Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., who proposed the watermelon resolution, said it is important for Georgia.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture reported that Georgia farmers sold more than $111 million worth of watermelons, 25 percent of the national total, in 2006.

“We’ve had positive press in Georgia, especially considering the huge agriculture economy,” Hamm said.

Hamm described the watermelon resolution as a win-win because if it passes, it will require no money. Plus, these resolutions are usually passed unanimously and don’t take much time or a presidential signature. The resolution is not on the committee’s schedule for a vote.

Some marinas used their day for customer appreciation, while others promoted themselves and boating.

Gasparilla Marina in Placida, Fla., drew about 400 people, slip owners and non-boaters, to a celebration that included free food, music, local vendors, boat safety information and boat rides.

Christine Connolly, Gasparilla’s advertising and marketing director, said Congress’ involvement in recognizing such a day is necessary.

“Boating is a recreational and family activity,” Connolly said, “therefore, it’s important.”

Marina day highlights the other “winners” of such resolutions, members of Congress. Boaz calls these resolutions freebies for politicians.

“It’s feel-good politics to benefit some particular group,” Boaz said. “Nobody objects to these things, and somebody likes each one.”

Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., proposed the National Marina Day resolution.

“Boating is such a huge industry in Michigan that she wanted to recognize the importance it plays in state and local communities,” said Stabenow’s spokesman Brad Carroll.

With more than 900,000 registered boats, Michigan ranks fourth among states, behind Florida, California and Minnesota, according to the U.S. Coast Guard. Boating is a $3.9 billion industry in the state.

Some day, week and month resolutions do address important issues, such as October’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month and April’s Holocaust Memorial Day, but Boaz dismissed the resolutions’ ability to raise awareness, attributing that to activism.

He is more concerned that these resolutions show society’s tendency to regard Washington as the authority on all issues.

“The government has an important role to protect our rights. It shouldn’t be distracted by sticking its nose into everything,” he said. “We don’t need the government to tell us what to think; we can decide on our own.”

But Norman Ornstein, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, said these resolutions aren’t worth losing sleep over.

“It’s not like these resolutions are what’s keeping them from solving Social Security or dealing with war,” Ornstein said. “They’re a small element that makes a sizable number of citizens feel as if their issue moved a little further along in terms of public awareness.”

Boaz also recognized a plus.

“If passing these resolutions keeps them from passing laws, maybe it’s a good idea,” he said.