Staff Editorial

Get Congress back to work

Senators listen as Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, speaks remo
Senators listen as Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, speaks remotely during a virtual Senate Committee for Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions hearing, Tuesday, May 12, 2020 on Capitol Hill in Washington. (Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post via AP, Pool)

A couple of weeks ago, we called on Iowa’s state lawmakers to get back to work after largely sitting idle during the coronavirus pandemic. But the U.S. Congress, too, has been spinning its wheels as the nation grapples with a public health and economic crisis.

This week as the U.S. Senate got back to work, holding hearings with the help of technology on the pandemic response. The hearings gave Dr. Anthony Fauci the opportunity to warn, once again, of the serious, deadly consequences of rushing to lift pandemic safety restrictions before the virus has been better contained and managed.

But the U.S. House has remained out of business. Last week, Iowa’s 2nd District U.S. Rep. Dave Loebsack said he would support allowing House members to vote remotely as part of an effort to get back to work. But Democrats who run the House had been cool to the idea.

That changed on Wednesday, when House leaders introduced a package of rules changes allowing absent House members to cast votes by proxy through lawmakers who return to the Capitol. Committees would be allowed to hold hearings using technology, such as video conferencing.

House Republicans criticized the changes, arguing that the rules allow representatives to “abandon ship.” But we see these as pragmatic, reasonable steps as leaders navigate uncharted waters.

With the U.S. Supreme Court now holding audio sessions, we’ve got three branches of government working for us again. Given the erratic performance of the president during this pandemic, that’s good news. The Senate hearings put the need for congressional oversight on vivid display as health experts questioned the wisdom of the White House’s rush to reopen.

Back in Iowa, leaders of the Republican-controlled Legislature announced it will reconvene the 2020 session on June 3. So our elected state senators and representatives will remain on pause while Gov. Kim Reynolds pushes to reopen Iowa, even as COVID-19 cases and deaths continue to increase.

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Restaurants and hair salons started opening on Friday. But the Iowa Legislature will remain closed for another two weeks. Something’s wrong with this picture.

The good news is, when lawmakers return, committee meetings will be livestreamed, giving Iowans more access to the legislative process. Although, judging by past performance, most of the major decisions on legislative issues, including how to deal with plunging state tax revenues, will be hashed out by the GOP majority behind the scenes.

That shouldn’t happen, given the impact of these budget decisions on Iowans. Let the sunshine in, lawmakers. We have the technology.

(319) 398-8262; editorial@thegazette.com

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