Profiles in Courage?

3/27/20

This weekend we should see what are known as “tick tock” stories in the newspapers and news sites about the passage of the big phase 3 coronavirus relief bill.  Journalists pen these stories after big or unique legislation passes – or fails.  The tick tock stories allow members and staff to cast their efforts in a good light while the iron is hot.  Congressional personnel give reporters the inside details from their point of view.  Count on it, most of these stories will also contain a tidbit such as what carry-out food was delivered to the late-night negotiators. 

Maybe these stories will illuminate better angels guiding the deliberations.  It may take longer and it may be historians in years revealing any profiles in courage.   

Now still in shadow of the sausage making, it appears not. Republicans were flabbergasted at what they see as Democratic blocking of a proposal that was near complete Saturday night with significant Democratic input.? Democrats were convinced the Republicans were building a slush fund and the Trump hotels would be a big beneficiary. 

In this time of crisis, they weren’t singing God Bless America on the east steps of the Capitol as they did on September 11.  They appeared to come together kicking and screaming and leaving claw marks in the dirt as they were dragged along.  

The brinksmanship that drives us so close to fiscal cliffs and the everything-but-the-kitchen-sink mentality that fuels year-end spending bills was on display. 

Notwithstanding that, there were many congratulations after the Senate passed the bill.  Members thanked each other for all the “hard work” and noted how folks worked long hours, day and night.  Many Americans are working day and night to keep us safe these days. 

Hopefully a longer lens of time will prove me wrong that that the sideshows did not matter and all efforts of member and staff will have generated policies that helped Americans.   

On another matter.  I have gotten a couple of questions about why Senators and Congressmen can’t vote remotely.  Five Senators were quarantined, and the House members were back in their districts, changing how the leaders approached passing the bill. 

Rules permit members to vote by proxy in committees, but Senators and Representatives must be present to vote on bills in the chambers.  In the House, there’s the funny tradition called “pairing.”  If a member must be absent for a vote on the House floor and would have voted “yes,” he may find a member who plans to vote “no.”  Mr. Yes asks Ms. No if they can “pair.”  With such an agreement, Ms. No commits to not voting at all.  It’s kind of like positive and negative charges cancelling each other out. 

This isn’t the week to test remote voting in Congress.  But it is worthy of consideration.  The House Rules committee issued a report last week that said a change to remote voting “cannot be implemented overnight, and likely cannot be accomplished in time to address the current crisis. Without complete consensus, which we do not currently have, it would also require us to come back to Washington to vote to change House rules to allow for remote voting.” 

House members and Senators won’t return to Capitol Hill April 20.  At that time, they will need to consider legislation around the regular functions of government given the $2 trillion that they have allotted for the virus fight.  We also expect a fourth and maybe fifth vote for virus specific recovery.   We will keep an eye on it all for you.