Bill to Allow Cellphone-Voting Congress Panned by Politicians

Friday, 25 Apr 2014 11:11 AM

By John Gizzi

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Democratic Rep. Eric Swalwell of California is pushing his proposal to permit members of the U.S. House to participate in the committee process by teleconferencing and vote through their mobile phones while away from Washington, D.C.

But Newsmax found that present and past House members who have had expertise in the parliamentary process are fiercely opposed to the measure and worried about the effect voting by phone would have on lawmaking.

Under Swalwell's legislation (H.R. 287), House rules would be amended "to permit absent members to participate in committee hearings using video conferencing and related technologies" and to "establish a remote voting system under which absent members may cast votes in the House on motions to suspend the rules."

Insisting that "so much of the work [in Congress] can be done remotely," Swalwell recently told MSNBC's Luke Russert that were his proposal to be enacted, he and his colleagues could even be able to vote on things such as "the name of post offices and sports centers" while away from Washington.

With more remote voting and participation permitted outside Washington, Swalwell said, lawmakers could "spend more time on substantive issues such as the budget" while in the nation's capital.

He also said that his proposal would be a way "to attract more women to Congress."

Noting that a number of his female colleagues have had babies recently and were forced to miss votes, Swalwell said enactment of H.R. 287 would "allow women to participate" in Congressional business as young mothers.

But one important woman in Congress strongly disagrees with Swalwell's legislation and his arguments for it.

"There are some things that technology can't improve on," House Administration Committee Chairwoman Candice Miller, a Michigan Republican, told Newsmax on Thursday. "One of them is members of Congress physically going to the floor of the House to debate an issue and then discuss it with other members and then voting on it — in person."

Miller's case for lawmakers voting in person was strongly seconded by two past members of Congress — Democrat and Republican — who had long experience in making sure their colleagues were on the House floor to vote.

"I have a lot of respect for Rep. Swalwell, but were voting by phone to become law, it would lead to less interaction in Congress — and that's what Congress is about," former Democratic Rep. Vic Fazio of California, past chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, told Newsmax.

Fazio, who was the third-ranking Democrat in the House hierarchy until leaving office in 1999, emphasized that legislating in Congress was "an interpersonal process and part of the problem is that, with so many members in Washington as little as possible, that process doesn't exist. The less time members have to interact, the more Congress becomes too impersonal."

As for Swalwell's argument that phone-in voting would mean pregnant women in Congress or ailing lawmakers miss fewer votes, Fazio, who is also the former chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said: "I never saw anyone lose re-election for health-related reasons. The voters understand those things."

It would be a "disaster" to allow House members "to vote in any place other than the House floor," said former Republican Rep. Robert Walker of Pennsylvania, the right-hand man to onetime House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who was considered a master of parliamentary procedure in the House.

"What is to prevent a congressman from giving his phone to his secretary or someone else in their district and saying, 'Vote this way while I'm out?'" Walker told Newsmax. "How do you monitor voting when it is done away from the House floor?"

Walker stressed that "one of the most important functions of being in Congress is the interaction on the House floor before a vote. If you watch it on CSPAN and it looks chaotic, it's because the committee chairmen and assistant whips are making sure lawmakers know the issues they will vote on.

"Things are bad now because there is not as much communication and virtually no cross-pollination between the parties. And if you take away the remaining personal contact that comes from voting on the House floor, you destroy the House as an institution."

John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.


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