WASHINGTON – It took George Washington (search) less time to win the Revolutionary War (search) than it has taken Rep. Roscoe Bartlett to win passage of a bill to make the government again call Presidents' Day by its legal name — Washington's Birthday.
It would require that all federal government officials and entities refer to the holiday exclusively as "Washington's Birthday," and require that the first president's name be used in any publication about the holiday "funded in whole or in part by federal funds."
The bill, co-sponsored by Rep. Frank Wolf (search), R-Va., would also require that Congress ask for a presidential proclamation honoring Abraham Lincoln's birthday every year and encouraging "appropriate ceremonies and activities" by the public.
"A generic Presidents' Day diminishes the accomplishments of America's greatest presidents, George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, while rewarding the mediocrity of others," Bartlett said in a statement.
Bartlett said Washington's name and image have been diluted by advertisers and others who call the holiday "Presidents' Day."
Maryland refers to Monday as Presidents' Day. A spokesman for Maryland's Department of Human Resources said his office follows the state's standard usage. But in Virginia, where Washington was born, the holiday is known as "George Washington Day."
Bartlett first introduced his holiday bill in 1999, to mark the bicentennial of Washington's death in 1799. The billtook its current form, which includes the provision recognizing Lincoln's birthday, in 2001. It has been reintroduced in each successive Congress, but has yet to be passed.
The bill has been referred to the House Committee on Government Reform, where a spokesman said Friday the committee will "consider it, as all the bills are, and take a look at it." But he would not predict its likely fate.
C.L. Arbelbide said she appreciates Bartlett's gesture. But Arbelbide, who frequently contributes articles on federal holidays to the National Archives journal, Prologue, said that moving the holiday to the fourth Monday of the month would better restore the public's memory of Washington.
While Washington's Feb. 22 birthday can never fall on the third Monday, it can occasionally fall on the fourth Monday, Arbelbide said.
"Congress chose the wrong Monday," she said."Being on the wrong Monday, it was only a matter of time that people disassociated the Monday (holiday from Washington)."
Washington's actual birth date was a federal holiday until 1971, when the Uniform Monday Holiday Law shifted many federal holidays to Monday. But the name of the holiday has never officially changed — even though it is now commonly called Presidents' Day.
Lincoln's Feb. 12 birthday has never been a federal holiday, though some states honor his birthday.
Bartlett said that as a school kid, he learned about "Honest Abe" on Lincoln's birthday, and the story of Washington saying he could not lie about cutting down the cherry tree.
"Kids need to reflect on the moral values" of Washington and Lincoln, he said.
One way to do that is to make sure their birthdays are properly recognized, said Bartlett, who vowed to keep up the fight.
"By and by it will get passed," he said.
Capital News Service contributed to this report.