May 28, 2021

Thought of the Week:

The Pandemic Brought Proxy Voting to Capitol Hill; Will it Continue? Over the course of the past year, people had to modify many of their day-to-day activities—they teleworked, accepted contactless delivery, and even went to virtual church services. At the same time, the House of Representatives adopted a resolution that, for the first time, no longer required its members to show up in person to vote. Although much of Congress’ work takes place off the House floor, committees hold field hearings around the country, and members spend time in their own districts, ever since the House was established in 1789, members have had to show up in person to vote. No crisis ever changed that commitment—not the Capitol’s  burning during the War of 1812, not the Civil War, not the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918, nor even the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The new House proxy rule created the strange situation of establishing a quorum by counting members as present who were, in fact, absent, and it allowed the House to do business with as few as 20 members physically present, as each could control as many as 10 other votes. Covid-19 was the reason something so radical was even attempted; the worry was a fear of failure under the traditional legislative practice that the Constitution requires and Congress had always followed. Since the resolution was adopted, 280 House members voted by proxy more than 12,000 times, and now, the truth is that proxy voting has settled into something of a routine on Capitol Hill, with even detractors putting the system to use (as of last week, 211 Democrats and 69 Republicans have voted by proxy). As the pandemic wanes, the question becomes whether lawmakers should keep the practice around in some form. Not surprisingly, debate over the rule change has been, and remains, partisan and fierce; Republicans largely oppose proxy voting, holding that all lawmakers should be in the Capitol physically to represent their constituents in Congress. Recently, Republicans have intensified their calls for the chamber to return to normal; the current proxy expiration date is July 3. While the process has illustrated that there are reasons why members of Congress may not be able to travel to Washington to vote in person, a number of members have also drawn criticism for using proxy voting for non-COVID related purposes. Going forward, the House will have to answer the same questions other workplaces in America are thinking about in terms of what it means to work in-person post-COVID, and they will have to negotiate trade-offs between in-person interactions and wanting people to be able to fulfill their responsibilities when there are situations that mean that they can’t physically be in Washington. For additional information on how the proxy process has impacted the state of legislation in the Congressional pipeline, please contact the Washington office.

Thought Leadership—from our Associations, Think Tanks, and Consultants:

American Enterprise Institute (AEI): It’s time to be worried about inflation. President Biden and the Federal Reserve should not be surprised to see that inflation concerns are mounting. The president’s excessive budget spending proposals and the Fed’s ultra-loose monetary policy have been inviting inflation for months. In his first 100 days in office, the Biden administration has come up with three enormous budget proposals with an estimated total cost of almost $6 trillion, or close to 30% of GDP. In addition, this has come at a time when the Federal Reserve still has as loose a monetary policy as it can and there is a large amount of pent-up demand in the economy. It follows that recent data released by the Department of Labor indicated a 4.2% spike in consumer prices compared to a year ago—double the Fed’s 2% inflation target. While this was just “one data point,” it may be an indication that the Fed has been too slow to respond to the Biden budget stimulus at a time when the economy was already recovering. The last thing that the economy needs now is more unfunded government spending. Unless, the price tags of Biden’s new spending proposals are reduced, we will see a lot more inflationary “data points” in the future.
 
Eurasia Group: The truth about UAPs may be coming soon. This summer, the intelligence community will deliver an unclassified, congressionally mandated report on “unidentified aerial phenomena” (UAP), also known as UFOs. The Defense Department declassified several videos from Navy pilots showing unidentified objects flying at high speeds, and they subsequently commissioned an Aerial Phenomena Task Force to investigate. The issue has quickly gone from a fringe area of interest in Washington to an object of fascination, and the inexplicable nature of the Naval videos suggests that even outlandish theories are at worse low probability but plausible explanations. While there are national security, budgetary, and scientific implications of UAPs, unless the report definitively rules out extraterrestrial visitors, which seems unlikely, the possibility of a transformative first contact with aliens will grow with the public, creating another unexpected storyline in an unusual year.

In Other Words (Quote): 

“This job’s not worth it to me to sell my soul. What are you gonna do, vote me out? That’s not a bad option, I get to go home.”

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV)

Did You Know:

While today’s Cabinet is made up of 15 executive branch departments (Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, Education, Energy, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, Housing and Urban Development, Interior, Justice, Labor, State, Transportation, Treasury, and Veteran Affairs), the four original Cabinet departments were State, Treasury, War, and Justice.

Image of the Week:

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