With the outbreak of the Coronavirus stalling most work in the U.S. Congress as lawmakers stay away from Capitol Hill, a key House panel will meet Wednesday evening to consider a new plan to allow members to vote from home during the pandemic, but only on bills dealing with Coronavirus outbreak.
"I don’t suggest these changes lightly, but this is an extraordinary time," said Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA), the Chairman of the House Rules Committee. "We need to ensure we can get our work done on behalf of the American people."
McGovern's plan - released very late on Tuesday night - would not only allow for proxy voting by one lawmaker on behalf of another on the House floor, but would also permit "virtual" committee hearings.
The House voting plan is designed to be a temporary change, and would only apply to "measures responding to the COVID-19 pandemic," for up to a 60 day period.
The text of the measure is available here.
Noting opposition to the idea from some quarters in Congress, McGovern told lawmakers in a letter that he does not want this to be a permanent change for the House.
"I strongly believe this should not become common practice for our regular business," the Massachusetts Democrat wrote.
The proposed temporary rules change came as the top Republican in the U.S. House on Tuesday urged Democratic leaders to put forward a 'clear, safe and effective' plan to get lawmakers back to work in person on Capitol Hill.
"In my view, conducting the business of the People's House is the definition of 'essential work,'" wrote House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) in a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
"Unfortunately, members have yet to be given specific guidance as to how Congress will fulfill its core duties - from deliberation to oversight to legislation - over the coming days and weeks," McCarthy added.
"This cannot become the norm," the Minority Leader said in his letter.
“For weeks I’ve been saying that if nurses, truckers, farmers, soldiers, and grocery store workers must go to work, so should Congress,” said Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY), who angered leaders of both parties by forcing many members to return for debate on a $2 trillion Coronavirus relief bill.
With most committee and Congressional business on hold because of the virus outbreak, the plan for proxy voting is scheduled for debate at a meeting of the House Rules Committee on Wednesday at 5 pm.
Instead of being held in the tight quarters where the panel normally meets on the third floor of the Capitol, the committee will gather in the giant room of the House Ways and Means Committee, which would allow members to spread out at proper social distancing intervals.
The plan could get a vote in the full House on Thursday, when lawmakers are scheduled to consider a Senate-passed $484 billion Coronavirus relief measure.