Bring the people back into the People’s House 

Nearly two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve found so many ways to adapt to our new and ever-shifting normal. Gone are the lockdowns of March and April of 2020, we’ve largely turned over mask and vaccination requirements to local control, and many businesses have assessed their abilities to open their doors and bring their customers in to serve their needs. 

Unfortunately, Congress hasn’t kept up. Across the Hill, constituents face obstacles to meeting with their elected representatives. Some offices remain entirely remote, while others are limiting meeting size to only five constituents at a time, with the burden of an escort. Still others are placing the financial and logistical burden of requiring proof of a same-day negative COVID-19 test to discuss matters important to communities across the country.  

Congress was made to be a living body—it’s why the makeup changes every two years, why we reapportion 435 seats every decade, and why the founders allowed each chamber to set short-term rules to govern their actions. Understandably, Congress has used that flexibility to adapt to the many threats members and the body have faced these last two years.  

In the same breath, however, Congress was made to reflect our nation. Our one-person-one-vote democracy is founded on the bedrock principle that any citizen can meet with their elected legislators to share their thoughts and concerns. Obstacles like shuttered offices and strict gatekeepers raise serious questions about our lawmakers’ transparency and accessibility.  

This isn’t just about optics, either; it has a real and negative effect on communities across the country. Every day, I hear from credit union leaders, eager to speak with lawmakers about how they have helped consumers keep the lights on and stay in their homes throughout the pandemic. They also have a lot to say about limits on their ability to improve their members’ financial well-being. 

The thing is, they can’t. Next week, when 4,000 leaders from the credit union movement come to Washington, only a fraction of them will be able to meet face-to-face with their elected representatives. Without those meetings, how can they have a say in the bills that could advance the communities they serve? 

In my 16 years in the House, there was nothing so rewarding as meeting with constituents and business owners from my district. Knowing that someone cared enough about an issue to come all the way from Iowa to share their thoughts and concerns meant the world. More importantly, shaking their hands and seeing the energy in their eyes, that face-to-face interaction went a long way to moving my stance on a fair number of issues.  

Zoom calls and Teams chats are a great backstop when safety concerns mean we need to be remote, but they can never replace the feeling and nuance that comes across in face-to-face engagement. Keeping lawmakers and staff safe is important, but surely proper vaccinations, masking, and so many other security measures put in place on the Capitol campus over the last two years are enough. 

Congress: join us in the new normal—open the Capitol to the public. Bring the people back into the People’s House.  

Jim Nussle is the President/CEO of the Credit Union Nation Association. Nussle served in Congress from 1991 to 2007 and was the 36th Director of the Office of Management and Budget. 

Tags Congressional offices COVID-19 Jim Nussle Lobbying

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