The U.S. House of Representatives was created by the Framers of our Constitution to be the legislative body most accountable to voters; from standing for election every two years to proportional representation across the states, a Member of Congress was originally envisioned to be the voice of the people.
The rules and informal practices of the Congress have changed over the years. As travel became easier and communications more broad, Congress evolved from spending less time in Washington, DC and more time at home, in the district, to today’s model where the majority of a Member’s time is spent in Washington, DC. He or she is expected “home” on weekends or during recess – short breaks to come home to the district and re-connect with constituents.
Because communications and travel is easy and accessible, the reasoning is that a Member can be in the Capitol most of the time and still be in touch with the views of the people they represent.
I propose that with the rapid advancement of technology and our mobile, instant access culture, that it is time for Congress to evolve and break out of its current post World War II model and adopt rules and practices in-tune with the 21st Century.
With smart phones, tablets, video conferencing, and document sharing there is no reason for Congress to be tucked away under the dome for the majority of their time and service. Frankly, I’m more interested in what a person living here has to say about an issue or vote rather than what a D.C. lobbyist thinks.
Under our current system, we elect representatives, send them to Congress, and because they spend all their time there, they become unrecognizable creatures of a Beltway Culture. It's time we flip the Congressional schedule on its head and never let our representatives forget where they came from.
Here is what I propose:
- Maintain a full-time Congress. This is not a proposal for a part-time Congress. Rather, let’s flip the schedule upside down and spend more time at home, in the district, and less time in Washington, D.C.
- Remotely participate in hearings. Using video conferencing and other tools, there is no reason for all Members of Congress to be in the same room for most hearings. Members can participate remotely from their home office. And, hearings can be held around the country to open it up to more people to attend and participate, all while the Members participate from home.
- Cast votes remotely. Why do all the Members have to be present in the Capitol to cast minor votes? Do they really need to be there in person to cast a vote to name a post office when he or she could just as easily cast a vote from the district? With secure servers and mobile technology it seems that a Member can still be alerted to a pending vote and cast it in the time allotted from a secure server.
- Maintain a public schedule on a shared server that allows the public to see exactly what a Member is up to on any given day. This isn’t a proposal to stay at home and slack off. Congress already has a ridiculously light schedule. By maintaining a public schedule, the public can see who a Member is meeting with and why; and how many hours he or she is putting into the job.
Here is what I hope the Mobile Congress achieves:
- Accountability. Right now, Congress is more disconnected with the people than ever before. If a Member is home, in the district, then that Member is accessible and presumably listening and definitely having to explain votes and positions.
- Accessibility. While technology allows us to share information faster and more broadly, we cannot lose the real, face-time connection with people.
- Limit Lobbyist Influence. Members of Congress are sitting ducks. It is easy for a lobbyist to go door-to-door to influence a vote. If Members are home, in the district, they have less time to spend with D.C. lobbyists and more time to hear from the people whose opinion really matters –you.
There are matters of importance that will require Congress to convene in Washington, D.C. and to conduct business. If we are limiting the time in the Capitol, this will force Congress to focus on the important issues at hand, to make a decision and to vote.
Currently, the in-fighting amongst Members is preventing them from making decisions to solve our problems. If they spend less time together, arguing amongst themselves, and more time hearing from the people impacted by their inactivity, perhaps Members will be forced to focus and act.
The Constitution requires that Congress assemble at least once in every year. I have no set period for time in the Capitol versus time at home, in the district. I do believe when the Congress convenes for a new session and adopts the rules for that session, the schedule can be agreed upon at that time. With ease of travel, we can accommodate and convene in Washington, D.C. for emergency situations.
I believe adopting a more mobile Congress will make Members more responsive to their constituents and more efficient in how we handle the business of legislating.