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Road ahead: Proxy voting begins as House takes up FISA, PPP bills

More than one-tenth of House plans to vote by proxy

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, here talking with reporters in the Capitol on March 13, says members voting by proxy will be ‘voting just as real, just as effectively’ as those in the chamber.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, here talking with reporters in the Capitol on March 13, says members voting by proxy will be ‘voting just as real, just as effectively’ as those in the chamber. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The House will be in session for two consecutive voting days this week for the first time since mid-March as it takes up the Senate-amended bill to reauthorize surveillance powers and legislation to adjust the terms of the relief effort that provides forgivable loans to small businesses.

However, some members will not be returning to the Capitol to vote. More than one-tenth of the 431 House members have sent letters to the clerk designating a colleague to serve as their proxy for voting on the floor.

[Pelosi activates 45-day authorization for proxy voting, remote committee meetings]

This week’s votes will see the first use of the proxy voting rule that the House adopted on May 15. Members voting by proxy will be “voting just as real, just as effectively, on behalf of their 750,000 people” as those in the chamber, House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer told reporters Tuesday.

Democrats were the first to signal to the clerk their intent to use proxies. That includes several members from faraway states such as California, Washington, Oregon and Texas, as well as a few from states within driving distance, including New Jersey and New York.

The rules allow a member to serve as a proxy for up to 10 colleagues. Nearby Democrats Jamie Raskin of Maryland and Donald S. Beyer Jr. of Virginia have been among the most popular proxy choices.

Republican leaders filed a lawsuit Tuesday evening in D.C. District Court, challenging the constitutionality of the proxy voting rule. While the goal of the lawsuit is to eventually stop the House from using proxy voting, it is not expected to prevent Democrats from starting to use it this week, according to a GOP leadership aide.

The main reason the House is returning to session this week — it was originally scheduled to be a district work week due to the Memorial Day holiday — is the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act reauthorization and overhaul that has been bouncing between the two chambers.

The House will vote Wednesday on the latest version of the bill passed by the Senate on May 14. The Senate adopted an amendment expanding the use of outside legal counsel in FISA court proceedings.

But another bipartisan amendment from Sens. Steve Daines, R-Mont., and Ron Wyden, D-Ore., came up one vote short of the 60 needed for approval. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., missed the vote because of the coronavirus pandemic, but she said she would have supported the amendment, which would clarify that warrantless collection of Americans’ web browsing history was not allowed under Section 215 of the Patriot Act.

Supporters may now get a second chance with Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., announcing Tuesday that she and Rep. Warren Davidson, R-Ohio, have secured a commitment for a vote on a similar amendment in the House.

“Without this prohibition, intelligence officials can potentially have access to information such as our personal health, religious practices, and political views without a warrant,” Lofgren said in a statement.

Small business loan program tweaks

On Thursday, the House will turn its attention to legislation tweaking the terms of the Paycheck Protection Program that Congress created as part of a roughly $2 trillion coronavirus relief package in March.

[House to vote on stand-alone small-business loan program fixes]

A bipartisan bill from Reps. Dean Phillips, D-Minn., and Chip Roy, R-Texas, would change the current eight-week period businesses have to spend the money and qualify for loan forgiveness to 24 weeks. The Senate last week reached bipartisan agreement to change the loan forgiveness period to 16 weeks but did not pass its bill before recessing.

It’s unclear whether the Senate will continue with its measure or take up the House bill when it returns to session next week. Both bills include other PPP tweaks that have bipartisan support — like changing the program’s end date from June 30 to Dec. 31 — but the House measure is more expansive.

FiscalNote, parent company of CQ Roll Call, has received a loan under the Paycheck Protection Program.

The House bill would also extend the period for paying back portions of the loans that aren’t forgiven and would eliminate the rule requiring businesses to spend at least 75 percent of the loan on payroll costs and no more than 25 percent on other expenses such as rent and utilities. Those provisions are not in the Senate bill.

“I don’t really think there’s a lot to resolve,” Hoyer said when asked Tuesday about reconciling the bills.

He said he talked Monday to fellow Maryland Democrat Benjamin L. Cardin, the ranking member of the Senate Small Business Committee, who he said believes the House bill is “an acceptable alternative.” Hoyer hopes Small Business Chairman Marco Rubio agrees “and would recommend that to the Senate so they could pass it quickly.”

The House will also vote Thursday on a bill from Phillips to require the Small Business Administration to publish a list of businesses that have received more than $2 million in PPP or economic injury disaster loans and other information about the loan approvals.

Committees start remote hearings

The rules package the House adopted May 15 authorized committees to hold remote hearings and markups, although panels are not allowed to conduct the latter until they’ve done a few hearings first. Those are beginning this week, which Hoyer cited as a priority because he needs committees to be able to start producing bills for floor consideration.

Fittingly, it appears the Rules Committee will be the first to conduct an official remote hearing. As it meets Wednesday to consider amendments and the rule for the FISA bill, it will use Cisco Webex to hear from members before moving to the Rayburn Building for an in-person markup of the rule.

The Ways and Means Committee is also using Cisco Webex videoconferencing to host a hearing Wednesday on the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on communities of color. The Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation is doing the same for a remote hearing Friday on the status of the U.S. maritime supply chain in light of the pandemic.

House Chief Administrative Officer Philip G. Kiko has approved Webex for use on the House’s secure network.

Some committees are proceeding with in-person hearings this week as well. Under the new rules, panels meeting in House office buildings can conduct a hybrid proceeding by allowing members not present to participate remotely.

The Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies will meet Thursday in the Longworth Building for a hearing with Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie and other department officials. The focus of the hearing is the department’s response to COVID-19, but it may delve into a debate about whether Congress should designate fixed costs of veterans’ health care accounts as emergency spending to avoid it counting under the nondefense budget cap that has already been set into law for fiscal 2021.

And the Education and Labor Workforce Protections Subcommittee will hold a hearing Thursday in the Rayburn Building on the government’s actions to protect workers from COVID-19 that is likely to look into a partisan dispute over the Occupational Safety and Health Administration refusing to issue emergency standards for the pandemic.

Niels Lesniewski, Katherine Tully-McManus, Chris Marquette and Paul V. Fontelo contributed to this report.

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