Fine print: Pelosi's $3T bill also declares House recess ... until July

As someone once said, you don’t know what’s in a bill until you pass it. In the case of Nancy Pelosi’s $3 trillion COVID-19 relief bill, the bigger question is what’s not in it. It has provisions for supporting marijuana companies, “environmental justice grants,” LGBT suicide-prevention training, the elimination of cash bail, and so on. As Mitch McConnell quipped yesterday, it’s a “seasonal catalog of left-wing oddities” that intends to leverage a crisis to pay off Pelosi’s special-interest constituencies.

So what doesn’t it include? Oversight. As soon as the bill passes and presumably makes three trillion dollars magically appear for the executive branch to disperse, language within the bill would send the House out on vacation for two full months:

They will vote on a $3 trillion economic aid package as well as a resolution allowing virtual committee business and proxy voting for the next 45 days unless renewed by Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat.

The measure includes a provision “that allows the House to remain in recess until July 21,” a Republican leadership aide said.

The language is included in a resolution dictating the rules of debate. It allows Democrats “to declare the House adjourned to meet at a date and time to be announced by the Chair in declaring the adjournment,” from May 19 until July 21.

A top Democratic aide said the provision was needed to block lawmakers (likely Republicans, who oppose the recess) from calling up votes during the pro-forma sessions held every three days.

There’s one sure-fire way to deal with that, which is to stay on the job. That seems like a minimal expectation for a legislature body that proposes to appropriate three trillion dollars overnight, especially one whose leadership professes to feel a deep commitment to oversight over how it is spent. Pelosi held up Phase 3 seven weeks ago for several days purportedly because it didn’t allow for robust enough House oversight, only to immediately dismiss the lower chamber immediately after passing the bill.

Even Pelosi’s name for the bill provides an indictment for this abdication. She called it the Heroes Act to honor those on the front lines of the pandemic response, another way of exploiting the crisis for her political constituencies. While honoring those heroes, the House hasn’t bothered to do what doctors, nurses, first responders, and even workers at groceries and restaurants have done, which is show up. And now, to honor those heroes, Pelosi has tucked away a provision to get more paid leave for another two months.

The bill does include a rule change to allow for proxy voting during the pandemic. However, that seems to conflict with the schedule, at least as described by Roll Call:

The House Rules Committee voted along party lines Thursday night to send to the floor a rule for consideration of the $3 trillion coronavirus bill and a resolution to change House rules to allow for proxy voting and remote committee proceedings. …

The proposed change would allow an absent lawmaker to designate a colleague to vote on House floor matters on the member’s behalf by sending a letter electronically to the House clerk with exact instruction on how to vote on each question on the floor.

The resolution would authorize House committees to hold virtual hearings, markups and depositions using software platforms approved by the chief administrative officer for remote participation.

The rule change would be temporary and would only last 45 days before needing to be renewed. It would not extend beyond the 116th Congress, which ends in January.

If it only lasts 45 days, and the House will go into recess for 60 days, then what’s the point of the rule change at all? In order to conduct business — remotely or otherwise — the House has to come into session. That is how votes get recorded, after all. The House (and Senate, for that matter) should have options for doing business in national emergencies when travel to Washington is either impossible or impractical, but they also should be open for business at the same time.

In this moment, though, travel to Washington is neither impossible nor impractical. The better option would be to appropriate funds to rent out a nearby hotel for exclusive use by members of Congress and key staff to provide the best isolation possible while in session, and to rent out transportation for their exclusive use between the hotel and Capitol Hill. That makes a lot more sense now than trying to spitball remote-voting procedures while bungee-visiting the Beltway for an otherwise meaningless vote on a bill that will go nowhere anyway.

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David Strom 5:20 PM | April 15, 2024