Editorial: Congress should innovate, too

Editorial: Congress should innovate, too

Millions of Americans have seen their lives disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic. We’re watching the numbers of people infected steadily increase. In addition, reports this week said more than 3 million people had filed for unemployment, while millions more are being forced to work from home.

Congress has moved to pass a series of bills to provide money to deal with the health and economic fallout of this crisis. But there still is more that is likely needed. Which makes it basic common sense that lawmakers ensure they will be able to deliver.

For several days, some members have been urging the House and Senate leadership to allow remote voting to ensure bills get passed.

At this writing, three members of Congress had tested positive for the coronavirus and others were in self-quarantine.

Earlier this week, 70 members of the House urged their leadership to let members vote remotely. "Millions of workers at businesses, schools, nonprofits, and local governments are using technology to continue to be productive. Congress should be no exception to adapting to this crisis," the lawmakers said in a letter.

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., a leader in this effort, wrote in an opinion piece with Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, noting there have been other times in our history when Congress has had to adjust. When the British burned the U.S. capitol building in 1814, lawmakers met at Blodgett’s Hotel in Washington, D.C.

Then, as now, there were concerns this might become a permanent change. But when the capitol was rebuilt, members returned. In this case, a bipartisan measure in the Senate would allow remote voting for just 30 days, with a renewal provision.

Unfortunately, a report by the House Rules Committee fussed that changing to remote voting couldn’t happen "overnight" and "likely cannot be accomplished in time to address the current crisis."

Not exactly a can-do attitude, is it?

There is so much that is unknown about our current crisis. We don’t know how long we will remain in a state of near-lockdown. We also don’t know how quickly pandemic cases will increase. The picture in New York doesn't fill us with confidence.

We do know Congress might have to take additional steps in the future. Our representatives and senators must be prepared for such an emergency. They ought to be willing to change their ways, just as they have asked all Americans to change.

All across this country, Americans are innovating to deal with the present crisis. Congress should do the same.

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