Congress invokes 'Schoolhouse Rock' in debate, but misquotes it (with video)

WASHINGTON — During Tuesday's heated debate over whether the House of Representatives and the Senate need to form a conference committee to resolve their differences over an extension of the Social Security payroll-tax cut, lawmakers didn't just quote the Constitution: They invoked "Schoolhouse Rock" and "I'm Just a Bill."

"Since the dawn of the republic, these are how differences are settled between the House and Senate," Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, said on the House floor. "If you don't remember your civics 101, maybe if you have small children like I do, you can go back and watch the 'Schoolhouse Rock' video. It's very clear."

Well, no.

The 1970s cartoon featuring a rolled-up bill singing about how he becomes a law doesn't specifically mention the conference committee process, although the song's author assumed Tuesday that he'd included the step when he penned the tune as part of ABC's "Schoolhouse Rock" educational series.

"I hope it's in there. You're talking about 1972," Dave Frishberg, a 78-year-old jazz performer who lives in Portland, Ore., said in an interview with McClatchy. "That was my intention, that it should be in there. But I had three minutes to fill, and you've got to pick and choose when you've got three minutes."

In the cartoon, the bill croons: "I'm just a bill. Yes, I'm only a bill. And I'm sitting here on Capitol Hill." He offers a step-by step primer on how he goes from idea to law, a process that takes him from being developed and voted on in a committee — such as Judiciary or Ways and Means — to the House floor for a vote.

With a "yes" vote, the bill moves to the Senate "and the whole process starts all over again," the cartoon bill says.

From there, the song takes the process directly to the White House and the threat of a presidential veto. No mention of House-Senate conference committees or what happens if the House and Senate disagree on a bill.

Still, Frishberg said he was thrilled that his song had become part of the congressional debate.

"I'm amazed how many times I've heard references to 'I'm Just a Bill' in the past 10-15 years," the four-time Grammy Award nominee said. "That little guy has become part of our culture, the bill rolled up like that."

"Yeah, I love it, it's great," he added. "You never know when you write something if it's going to live like this. Of all my songs, I thought that would be the last one to live. It was a trifle."

Baby boomers and Congress have helped keep "Bill" alive. Frishberg said someone once told him that the "Bill" song and cartoon had been used to orient freshman lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

"I was honored, but horrified at the same time, when I heard that," he said.


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