Proxy Voting, Remote Hearing Problems Prompt Search for Fixes
- House Rules Committee debates changes in place since May 2020
- Republicans want to halt pandemic practice, citing abuses
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House Democrats say they want to continue some form of proxy voting and remote committee hearings, but they acknowledge the need to root out abuse of the changes that were put in place to deal with Covid-19 health concerns.
At a Rules Committee hearing on the issue Thursday, Chairman Jim McGovern(D-Mass.) said lawmakers “didn’t get everything perfect” with proxy voting and remote hearings but noted the continuing usefulness of both. He pointed out that committee member Rep. Joe Neguse(D-Colo.) was able to virtually attend the hearing despite testing positive for Covid-19 earlier this week.
More than a dozen members not on the committee either appeared at the hearing to testify or submitted prepared remarks on whether the House should continue the practices, including the majority and minority leaders.
Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said while in-person voting and hearings should be encouraged, he’s seen “a number of cases in which it may be appropriate to continue having it as an option, not as a preference, not as a practice, but as an option.”
Hoyer also said remote hearings allowed lawmakers to hear from a wider range of diverse experts from across the world, including experts abroad and witnesses who lack the time and money to come to Washington, D.C., to testify.
“Given the technology we have, we can accommodate not being in person,” Hoyer said. He asked the committee to explore how proxy voting could continue to be incorporated into the House’s work post-pandemic.
Currently, there’s no proposal to update the proxy voting process, and the practice could be halted next year if Republicans win control the chamber.
Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy(R-Calif.), who didn’t attend the hearing, called for the end of proxy voting, saying in submitted remarks that lawmakers “cannot look past the glaring flaws and potential for abuse ripe inside the current system.”
McCarthy also said virtual hearings were marred by technological glitches, noting that a Republican lawmaker was almost prevented from voting on an amendment because of the video service used.
“Mr. Chairman: you have given Members an inch, and they have taken the proverbial mile,” McCarthy said in the remarks to the committee. “Whatever the initial intent of proxy voting, enough is enough.”
Since going into effect in May 2020, about 80% of lawmakers have voted by proxy at least once, according to an analysis by the Brookings Institution.
Some members have relied on proxy voting while they were quarantining because of Covid-19, being treated for cancer, or recovering from childbirth.
But there’s bipartisan consensus that the practice is often misused. Lawmakers told the panel about seeing fellow members voting by proxy while on the campaign trail, at fundraisers, on vacation, or while on a boat. Rep. Tom Cole(R-Okla.) noted that “magically, proxy voting doubles on Friday.”
Lawmakers debated how much proxy voting had contributed to issues such as increased partisanship among members and longer vote times, but few solutions were offered.
Rep. Veronica Escobar(D-Texas) suggested members get 20 days to use proxy voting, and that it be left to members to determine when they use those days.
“We should allow Congress to operate in the same way that most other organizations operate,” she said. Escobar added that it’s important to have proxy voting to “allow members to be there for a birth, to be there for a funeral.”
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