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House votes to limit congressional gold medal awards

From Ted Barrett
CNN Washington Bureau

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Concerned that the prestige of the congressional gold medal is being diluted because Congress is doling out too many of them too often, the House voted Wednesday to cap the number of medals approved each year at two and placed other restrictions on who can receive it.

It's the highest civilian award Congress can bestow but is, in fact, becoming "commonplace," warned Elizabeth Wenk, a spokeswomen for Rep. Mike Castle, R-Delaware, author of the bill.

"The luster and the importance and the meaning of a congressional gold medal will be tarnished if we do not limit the number we award," Castle said.

Wenk was reluctant to finger any past recipients who might not have deserved the award. But she pointed to the 2000 gold medal winners, the 29 Navajo Code Talkers who used their native language as the basis for a key military code during World War II, and asked, "How do you really compare them to Rosa Parks or Ronald Reagan?"

Republican leaders also see the change as a "good government" measure because of the high costs associated with presenting the award, Wenk said.

The gold medal list reads like a Who's Who of American history. George Washington was given the nation's first congressional gold medal in 1776. Winston Churchill got one in 1969. John Wayne, Joe Louis, Harry Truman, Lady Bird Johnson, Gen. Douglas MacArthur and Walt Disney are also on the list.

Recent recipients include Gen. Colin Powell, Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, Pope John Paul II, Charles Schulz, Dorothy Height, and the Little Rock Nine.

In addition to limiting the number of awards each year, the bill restricts the award to individuals, banning groups like the code talkers or the Little Rock Nine. Also, it limits posthumous awards to within 25 years of a recipient's death.

The bill passed 231-173, with many Democrats voting against it. The bill next goes to the Senate where its fate is uncertain.


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