House Republicans call for cutting office budgets of lawmakers who use proxy voting

House Republicans call for cutting office budgets of lawmakers who use proxy voting
© Greg Nash

Two House Republicans have introduced legislation that would reduce lawmakers' annual office budgets if they vote by proxy during the coronavirus pandemic instead of traveling to Washington to cast votes in person.

The bill introduced Thursday from GOP Reps. Mike JohnsonJames (Mike) Michael JohnsonGOP lawmakers comply with Pelosi's mask mandate for House floor The Hill's Coronavirus Report: iBIO Chairman and CEO Thomas Isett says developing a safe vaccine is paramount; US surpasses 150,000 coronavirus deaths with roughy one death per minute The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Gohmert tests positive; safety fears escalate on Capitol Hill MORE (La.) and Debbie Lesko (Ariz.) would direct the House Administration Committee cut a lawmaker's annual Member Representational Allowance (MRA) by the amount that would have been spent if they traveled to Washington.

House Democrats adopted rules changes in May that allow lawmakers to cast votes and conduct committee meetings remotely during the coronavirus pandemic to accommodate safety concerns over the risks of congregating closely together in the Capitol. Under the new proxy voting system, lawmakers can authorize colleagues physically present in the Capitol to cast votes on their behalf.

About 70 Democrats voted by proxy for the first time on May 27, while Republicans — who have been pushing to reopen the economy as soon as possible — have insisted on voting in person. House Republicans have also filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the proxy voting system.

"We've challenged their rule in court, but as long as it is in place, it stands to reason that if any member chooses not to travel to D.C. to vote, his or her taxpayer-funded travel allowance should be deducted by the amount that would have been spent on that trip," Johnson said in a statement.

“If members are not going to travel for votes and instead rely on proxy voting, they should be required to give the money allocated for travel back to the Treasury. It’s only fair," Lesko added.

The size of individual MRAs varies by each lawmaker. Each MRA includes a mileage allowance, which is based on the distance between a lawmaker's district and Washington, that can be used to pay for official travel expenses.

Many of the Democrats who voted by proxy last month hail from districts on the West Coast, meaning that their MRAs would have higher mileage allowances.

Lesko previously offered a similar proposal to cut lawmakers' MRAs if they vote by proxy or attend a proceeding remotely during a House Rules Committee markup of the resolution enacting the rules changes last month. But it was rejected along party lines.

Rep. Jamie RaskinJamin (Jamie) Ben RaskinCongress must enact a plan to keep government workers safe Five takeaways from Fauci's testimony GOP lawmakers comply with Pelosi's mask mandate for House floor MORE (D-Md.), a member of the Rules Committee, suggested at the time that such a proposal should also apply to lawmakers who sleep in their offices to save on real estate costs while in Washington.

"What I recommend to the gentlelady — and I know she's offered this in all sincerity — is that she combine with those people who are saying that members who sleep in their offices should have to return part of their salary to the United States government. Because part of their salary undoubtedly is to cover the costs of their living in Washington when they're here," Raskin said.

House Republicans' lawsuit challenging proxy voting remains ongoing, but President TrumpDonald John TrumpUSPS warns Pennsylvania mail-in ballots may not be delivered in time to be counted Michael Cohen book accuses Trump of corruption, fraud Trump requests mail-in ballot for Florida congressional primary MORE has already signed into law two measures that the House passed with proxy votes. The two bipartisan bills concerning enhanced flexibility for loans offered through the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and sanctions on officials responsible for China’s forced labor camps targeting Uighur Muslims both passed easily with GOP support.

Trump issued a statement on June 5 after signing the PPP bill urging Congress to "pass the Act anew through traditional in-person voting at the earliest available opportunity." He said that he still signed the bill, despite the ongoing GOP lawsuit, because the measure is "essential to protecting jobs as the nation begins to reopen the economy."

Democrats maintain that proxy voting is constitutional, citing legal precedent finding that each chamber of Congress has the authority to determine its own rules. They also point to precedent in both the House and Senate of proxy voting in committees.

Republicans ended the use of proxy voting in committees in the 1990s under then-Speaker Newt GingrichNewton (Newt) Leroy GingrichMORE (R-Ga.) as part of their reforms to House rules upon winning the majority. But proxy voting is still allowed in Senate committees.

The rules changes adopted by House Democrats only allow proxy voting for 45 days a time, unless Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiSusan Collins asks postmaster general to address delays of 'critically needed mail' Trump says he'd sign bill funding USPS but won't seek changes to help mail voting On The Money: Senate leaves until September without coronavirus relief agreement | Weekly jobless claims fall below 1 million for first time since March | Trump says no Post Office funding means Democrats 'can't have universal mail-in voting' MORE (D-Calif.) extends it further, and only for the duration of the coronavirus pandemic.