By: Congresswoman Ashley Hinson (IA-01)
January 11, 2022
If you have turned on the news at any point over the past year, you know that chaos and dysfunction in Washington, D.C., is alive and well. Flashy headlines and political theatrics continue to take priority over serious legislative work to solve the problems American families are facing. From crippling price increases for everyday items, to lawlessness at our southern border, and a spike in violent crime — these crises demand the full attention of lawmakers in Washington. Yet many in Congress are missing in action. Instead of coming to the Capitol to work, lawmakers continue to vote by proxy, and congressional committees are debating spending trillions of taxpayer dollars over virtual meetings. It’s past time for Washington to lead by example and show the American people that Congress serves them.
Every single member of the U.S. House of Representatives was elected by their constituents to vote and legislate on their behalf — that is the fundamental point of this job. Proxy voting, a process by which members of Congress vote remotely, was implemented in May of 2020, during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. It was never meant to be permanent or used outside of legitimate concerns related to COVID-19. But now, almost two years later, members of both parties are abusing this system — not because of the virus, but because it is inconvenient to show up for work. I have never voted by proxy, and I never will.
Iowans are back at work in person. Hospital workers, truck drivers, grocery store clerks, child care providers, farmers, first responders, and teachers show up every single day for their jobs, and I’m so grateful they do. Not showing up for work isn’t an option for most Americans and it shouldn’t be an option for members of Congress. But Speaker Pelosi recently extended proxy voting into 2022, giving a pass to those who don’t want to come to work and perpetuating the chaos and dysfunction in the halls of Congress.
To vote by proxy, members are required to submit a signed letter to the Clerk of the House stating, “I am unable to physically attend proceedings in the House Chamber due to the ongoing public health emergency.” Over 3,000 of these letters have been submitted — that means members who are voting by proxy have planned to be absent for over 3,000 separate votes. A recent Ripon Society report proved that both Democrats and Republicans are taking advantage of proxy voting to extend their weekends at home or attend a different event, not because of COVID-19. The report points to several instances of members voting by proxy — because they are “unable to physically attend” votes — while simultaneously posting photos at other functions across the country or even just miles away from the Capitol in Washington, DC.
The lawmakers who opt out of coming to Washington, D.C. are not only disrespecting their constituents; they are also doing a disservice to the entire country. Fewer members in the Capitol means less time for legislators to work together on critical issues and build consensus on policies when we should be using every ounce of our time to find solutions to the challenges facing all Americans. This is a productivity issue, an accountability issue, and a respect issue — our constituents who sent us to Washington and whose taxpayer dollars pay our salaries deserve representatives who give one hundred percent to every part of the job — not who blatantly play hooky and abdicate responsibility. This absent Congress is breeding chaos while problems Americans and Iowans are talking about at their kitchen tables continue to worsen each day.
Another “temporary” change made during the COVID-19 pandemic was the switch to virtual committee hearings and votes. These aren’t your average “could have been an email” meetings or phone calls. This is the House Budget Committee hearing where we are debating spending trillions of your taxpayer dollars over video call — and voting on that massive spending from all over the place. At least one member of that committee even voted the wrong way by mistake because he missed what was happening while he was boarding a plane. It’s the House Appropriations Committee holding a virtual hearing with the head of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement on the administration’s response to the border crisis and having his connection drop as I asked questions on behalf of Iowans. These are just two examples of the dysfunction of a virtual Congress — the grave issues facing the American people deserve our full attention and effort.
As members of Congress, Americans hired us to be their voice through our votes and to work every day to improve their lives. It’s time to stop proxy voting and end the lazy practice of doing the people’s business virtually. Let’s give Americans the dedicated leadership they deserve in Washington.
This piece originally appeared in The Gazette on 1/10/2022.