Members of the House of Representatives will cast votes this week on the country’s most pressing issues—some from the comfort of their own homes.
Lawmakers are expected to vote on modifying small-business relief and restoring the federal government’s surveillance powers by using the chamber’s historic proxy voting system that it temporarily established last week as a protective measure during the pandemic.
Members will no longer be forced to trek across country by plane or car to be present in Washington and fulfill their duties—an idea that received strong pushback from Republicans over criticism their Democratic counterparts sought to improperly change the rules and stay home as essential workers face the brunt of the pandemic.
The votes will mark the first time in American history that members will not have to be physically present on the floor for their position to be officially counted.
The first vote is expected Wednesday and will reinstate the government’s spy authorities—with modifications—under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) that Congress allowed to expire in March amid bicameral and bipartisan disagreements. The Senate overwhelmingly—80 to 16—passed a FISA reform bill in mid-May with an added amendment, kicking it back to the House for final approval.
The House will also look to amend the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) to increase the flexibility of forgivable loans given to small businesses hamstrung by forced closures. The program was created under Congress’ $2.2 trillion stimulus known as the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act.
The adjustment to PPP would extend the June 30 deadline by which a small business must use the federal loan they received to hire back their employees, among other things, by 24 weeks.
However, the House and Senate are proposing dueling fixes to the loan system. The Senate’s bipartisan version would extend the deadline by 16 weeks rather than 24. In addition to the discrepancy, the Senate will not be back from Memorial Day recess until June 1, offering less time for lawmakers to reach a solution.
Congress will also soon be forced to set its sights on other pressing and looming matters. For example, lawmakers have to work toward crafting next year’s fiscal budget and potentially another stimulus package—both of which must be accomplished as election day grows nearer and the pandemic persists.
On May 15, the House approved a $3 trillion stimulus bill, that proposal is assumed to be dead. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) declared it to be a “parade of absurdities that can hardly be taken seriously.”