WASHINGTON—Beltway sources confirmed rumors this week that the U.S. Capitol is haunted by the ghost of H.R. 4591, a transportation appropriations bill brutally killed by Congress 16 years ago on the floor of the House.
Records show that the promising young piece of legislation, known as the Highway and Port Improvement Act of 1996, was gruesomely tabled in front of hundreds of representatives who reportedly did nothing to keep it from dying. In the years since the killing, lawmakers have reported a range of eerie phenomena they attribute to the bill's vengeful, tortured soul, from apparitions of the dead act appearing in stacks of pending bills, to inexplicable, bone-chilling breezes emanating from the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee chambers.
Capitol Hill sources have speculated the restless spirit of the bill will never cease its anguished search for discretionary funding until it receives enough votes to move onto the next life in the Senate.
"Most people in these parts go pale when you mention the name H.R. 4591 and refuse to talk about it," said Reginald Boyd, a longtime House aide who witnessed the bill's agonizing, drawn-out death over a long series of procedural votes and markups. "I'll never be able to erase that horrific legislative session from my mind. Congress completely ignored the bill's desperate calls to modernize highway interchanges and replace aging bridge pilings. They callously butchered its preamble and tore it subsection-from-subsection until you could barely tell it was a transportation bill at all."
"When they finally left it for dead, riders were sticking out of it everywhere and it just lay there bloated and lifeless, festering on the table for weeks," continued Boyd, pausing a moment to collect himself. "No innocent, well-meaning legislation ever deserves such a cruel fate."
Over the years, Capitol employees have come to blame the dead legislation for countless mysterious occurrences, from misplaced documents, to C-SPAN technical glitches, to the repeated failure of high-speed rail legislation, to unexplained gaveling sounds coming from the House chamber in the cold, dark night.
Additionally, in 2009, several members of the House Republican caucus claimed to have witnessed an apparition on the Rotunda wall of the bill's infamous Section 233, a $14 billion tax measure to offset tunnel-repair costs, which is said to have left the representatives cowering and profoundly shaken.
"They say if you're alone in the Capitol at midnight, the lights will flicker and all the documents before you momentarily become the dead bill's cover page," said freshman Rep. Sandy Adams (R-FL). "And legend has it that every Feb. 26, on the anniversary of the bill's death, if you look out across the National Mall, you can see the ghostly specter of the Toledo-area two-lane overpass the act was intended to fund."
According to congressional lore, the bill's sponsor, the late Rep. Harold Volkmer (D-MO), was driven mad by H.R. 4591's death. Volkmer is said to have become obsessed with the idea of saving the legislation, muttering incessantly to himself for the remainder of his life about how he should have added $240 million in targeted earmarks to win over opponents.
Although the 387 members of the 104th Congress who participated in the bill's slaughter reportedly made a pact never to speak of the horrific acts they committed, some, like Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD), have come forward in an effort to ease the guilt they said has weighed on their consciences for over a decade.
"I'll never be able to forgive myself for what happened to that poor bill," said Hoyer, who claimed visions of the mutilated legislation still tormented him in his sleep. "It was a good, ambitious bill with such a bright future, but we barely let it out of committee before we viciously hacked it apart."
"We just sat there and didn't even give it an up or down vote," added Hoyer, staring stoically at nothing in particular, his voice hushed and trance-like. "We deserve all its wicked vengeance."
Despite legislators' widespread belief that the bill is lashing out in wrath from beyond the grave, some have asserted it is time to forget about H.R. 4591 and move on.
"What's done is done. There's no use worrying about the bill as there's nothing we can do to end the terrible curse it cast upon us," House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) said. "That is, aside from reviving it and passing it with enough funds to upgrade the nation's transportation infrastructure, thereby allowing the legislation to finally rest in peace."
"But let me be clear," Cantor added. "I will never allow such a wasteful spending measure to pass this Congress."