WASHINGTON, DC—In recognition of its "service above and beyond the call of duty in the legislative field," Congress awarded itself the Congressional Medal of Honor Monday.
"We've done a very good job this past year," House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX) said. "After passing H.R. 682 through the Senate, we realized the 109th U.S. Congress had done something that would benefit the entire country. We felt it was time we officially recognize our accomplishments."
Added DeLay: "I will treasure this medal as long I live."
The Congressional Medal of Honor, created in 1861 to recognize soldiers who distinguish themselves in battle, is the highest military decoration awarded by the U.S. government.
Although the medal is traditionally reserved for members of the U.S. Armed Forces, a bill signed into law last month allows Congress to award the medal to "national legislative bodies charged with the responsibility of making the laws that govern the nation," as well.
Sen. Wayne Allard (R-CO) was among the congressmen who approved the bill in an overwhelming majority.
"The Medal of Honor is a reward for extraordinary bravery and dedicated service on behalf of our great country," said Allard, his medal gleaming on his chest. "It is an honor reserved for that rarest of men: the hero."
Before Monday's ceremony, only 3,459 individuals had been awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. Some Americans—including the family of Sgt. First Class Paul R. Smith, who received a Congressional Medal of Honor last week—have suggested that awarding the medal to 535 people at once diminishes its prestige.
"How does honoring more people cheapen the medal?" DeLay asked. "I'm honored to be counted among so many other brave and patriotic Americans, past and present."
While officially awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for "exemplary service in the drafting of H.R. 682," Congress also recognized itself for "general excellence in the field of legislation in America," as well.
"Congress members may not put themselves into physical danger to take a crucial enemy outpost," Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) said. "But Congress works very long hours every week to improve the lives of all Americans, and that's heroic in its own right. I'm proud to be a U.S. senator, and I'm honored that Congress has chosen to recognize my achievements on the congressional floor."
Many members of Congress reported it was difficult to choose between the Army, Navy, and Air Force medals of honor.
"It was a time of solemn reflection and careful choosing," DeLay said. "Personally, I would've loved to have a Marine medal of honor, because my favorite uncle was a Marine, but there's no such thing. Oh well."