Proxy voting goes out with a bang in the House
Proxy voting went out with a bang in the House on Friday, with the majority of lawmakers in the chamber voting remotely during what will likely be the last time members can utilize the pandemic-era procedure.
The House convened Friday morning to vote on a $1.7 trillion omnibus package, which will fund the government through September and avert a holiday shutdown. The legislation passed in a 225-201-1 vote after weeks of bipartisan and bicameral negotiations.
But fewer than 50 percent of lawmakers showed up on the floor to weigh in on the trillion-dollar measure, with most opting to vote by proxy.
A total of 226 lawmakers — 52.4 percent of the body, when accounting for vacancies — voted remotely on the omnibus bill, leaving the chamber far emptier than usual.
A total of 134 Democrats utilized the procedure compared to 92 Republicans — marking a 42-person difference.
The omnibus vote was the House’s final scheduled vote of the current Congress, which is set to conclude on Jan. 3, 2023. Republicans are slated to take control of the House on that day, and they have vowed to do away with proxy voting and require that all members cast votes in person.
The House established proxy voting in March 2020 amid the COVID-19 pandemic as a way to allow members to vote from home. Since then it has been extended a number of times, with Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) citing the ongoing public health emergency.
She prolonged the procedure an additional time on Friday, letting it run through the end of the 117th Congress on Jan. 3. There are not any votes scheduled for that time frame.
Both parties have utilized the pandemic-era procedure in its nearly two years in place, but there have been recent grumblings about members taking advantage of what was intended to be a health-related alternative to in-person voting.
Friday’s tsunami of proxy voting came one day before Christmas Eve, and amid a bomb cyclone that battered central and eastern parts of the country.
“Something tells me much more that this has to do with people wanting to be home for Christmas,” Rep. Guy Reschenthaler (R-Pa.) told The Hill.
Republicans for months have railed against proxy voting , promising to do away with the pandemic-era procedure once they take the majority of the chamber. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who is running to be Speaker, reiterated that plan on Friday.
“In 11 days, the new @HouseGOP majority will change the direction of our country,” he wrote on Twitter. “We will also return the House back to a functioning constitutional body by repealing proxy voting once and for all.”
Republicans also tried to use the wave of proxy voters on Friday to throw a wrench into the just-passed omnibus bill.
Rep. Dan Bishop (R-N.C.) suggested that there could be a legal challenge over the omnibus being passed with a majority of members voting by proxy and without a physical quorum present.
“The $2 trillion omnibus just passed WITHOUT A QUORUM. Any party with standing can and should challenge its validity in a court of law,” Bishop said in a tweet.
Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) also alluded to future challenges.
“I would note that this So $1.7 trillion legislation is moving off the floor without a physical quorum present,” Roy said on the floor after passage of the omnibus. “There were 218 votes cast by proxy on the rule and 226 votes cast by proxy on the final passage.”
Roy made a parliamentary inquiry on whether there was a ”physical quorum present as required under the Constitution,” and whether there was any recourse for a member to challenge a ruling in favor of a quorum. The chair responded that under the rules of the House, a quorum was present.
Bishop, Roy and other members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus had worked earlier this year on a plan to potentially allow for challenges to the Inflation Reduction Act based on proxy voting and quorum grounds.
A large number of members voted by proxy for that August vote. Freedom Caucus members — with the approval of McCarthy — tried to lobby as many Republicans as possible to also vote by proxy in order to pass that legislation with mostly proxy vote, potentially raising the opportunity to challenge the bill’s validity on constitutional quorum grounds.
That last-minute effort ultimately failed, however, with a majority of members casting votes in person.
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