Congress is not immune to this crisis

Greg Nash

Our nation is currently facing a global health crisis unlike any we have seen before. Businesses are shuttered, the American people are hurting, and our economy is at a standstill. As members of Congress urge our constituents to stay home and practice social distancing to help flatten the curve, we should be leading by example. Unfortunately, House and Senate rules, as they stand today, do not allow us to do so without unanimous consent.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), and other members of House leadership are about to be presented with a grim choice. Do they look to pass a $2 trillion bill – the biggest stimulus package in the history of our country – by voice vote without members officially recording their vote, or do they force members from all across the country to get on planes and trains and return to Washington, literally putting lives at risk during all parts of the journey.

House leadership should not be faced with this decision. This is a choice that could have been avoided: Congress could, and I believe should, already have a remote voting system in place exclusively for use during declared national emergencies. We must be able to perform our constitutional duty in a time of crisis, even if we are unable to gather at the Capitol.

Members of both chambers are under self-quarantine by orders from medical doctors. Each of these members represent states and districts that deserve to have their voice heard on any vote before Congress. Without remote voting, they will not have the opportunity. Many in Congress prefer tradition when instead, we need modernization.

As a member of the House Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress, I fully understand just how many limitations this institution has, but few are as pressing as the lack of options for voting during a national emergency such as this one. It may be too late to correct course and have a contingency plan for remote voting during this outbreak, but I am urging congressional leaders from both sides of the aisle to be prepared for national emergencies in the future.

To be clear: I am absolutely against remote voting as a matter of regular order. But in times of crises and national emergencies, Congress must have an alternative plan in place to adapt to the challenges we will inevitably face. I have spent much of my time this Congress exploring reforms to the legislative calendar and schedule to increase – not decrease – members’ time in Washington to engage in the legislative process. Reforming a broken process is a critical first step to fixing our biggest problems.

If the House is called back into session after the Senate passes the CARES Act, I will return to Washington and cast my vote alongside my colleagues without hesitation. It will truly be my honor to do so. However, we should all ask ourselves what message we are sending the American people when we get on planes and trains or drive from every corner of the country while we tell our fellow Americans to stay home. We are not invincible; we are just a group of people who ran for office to make a difference in an institution that is – at best – slow to adapt to modern times.

William Timmons represents South Carolina’s 4th District and is a member of the Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress.

Tags Coronavirus COVID-19 Kevin McCarthy Nancy Pelosi William Timmons

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