Via Sun Journal
Instead of hunkering down at their homes across America, members of Congress ought to stay in session in Washington and carry out their duties in the face of a pandemic, the same way that doctors, nurses and many other workers must, U.S. Rep. Jared Golden of Lewiston said Thursday.
“I don’t think we should be going out of session,” the first-term Democrat from Maine’s 2nd Congressional District.
Golden made the 11-hour drive to the Capitol this week to cast a vote in favor of a new round of relief funding alongside many colleagues wearing masks and gloves to help avoid exposure to the coronavirus.
The House endorsed a bill, backed by President Donald Trump and the Senate, that would allocate another $310 billion to a small-business loan/grant program and another $174 billion for health care providers, another emergency loan effort and more testing.
Golden said Congress ought to stay there and hold oversight hearings, talk with one another about policy choices for the next round of relief funding and generally carry out its responsibilities as much as possible while trying to protect everyone’s health.
Golden, 37, said many lawmakers on both sides of the aisle agree with him but legislative leaders don’t so they’re sending everyone home again after Thursday’s vote.
Golden said he has spent most of his time in recent weeks at his house with his wife, a law student. She gets the home office, he said.
“That puts me at the kitchen table,” Golden added.
He said he’s there from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily, making phone calls to constituents, doing occasional video sessions and talking with other members who are in their homes.
“We’re doing the best we can” under trying circumstances, Golden said.
U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree of New Haven, who represents Maine’s 1st Congressional District, wears a face mask she made to wear while on Capitol Hill to vote for a cororavirus relief package Thursday. Submitted photo
He said he’s managed to hold seven tele-town halls so far, usually with a couple thousand people on each. But he misses the more traditional ways of reaching people throughout his district, including simply going about the normal routine of legislative business.
Golden said if lawmakers don’t want to stay in Washington, they ought to adopt new rules and procedures to incorporate modern technology so they can vote from remote locations, hold hearings online and the like.
He said the leadership is wary, but is coming under pressure from a growing number of legislators who want to see change.
As it is, Golden said, the Republican and Democratic leaders in the Senate and House are talking among themselves, reaching out largely just to the administration and committee chairs for advice. That leaves a lot of the more junior people on the sidelines.
“I find that disappointing,” Golden said. “Every congressional district in this country should have a voice in this process.”
The lawmaker said Congress has “a constitutionally important role to play” that it can’t do if its members are spread across the country with no way to vote or hold public sessions.
He said he understands there is a risk in staying on Capitol Hill, one that some legislators might not be willing to take. But, he said, there are many working people who are running registers, operating machinery, driving trucks and many other occupations that also pose a threat to their health.
Congress, he said, needs to be able to act more swiftly during this crisis.
Golden said with so much money being distributed to try to help people and businesses cope with the new coronavirus, it’s important that legislators carry out their oversight responsibility to see where the money is helping and where it could be used more efficiently.
For instance, he said, it isn’t clear that the $25 billion in the new measure to help with coronavirus testing in the states is enough. He said that’s the sort of thing hearings with experts could make a big difference in decision-making.
Golden said he is also concerned that the rules governing loans to small businesses in the Paycheck Protection Program, which can be forgiven if recipients maintain their payroll, may be too strict for some enterprises trying to hang on.
He said they may not be able to pay back the money within the two-year period if they fail to keep up staffing despite their best efforts. A little more flexibility would help, Golden said.
Legislators need to keep their eye on these programs, he said, in order to make them better.
He said that while Congress has done important work on the pandemic, it hasn’t done all it could.
Golden said the response of the federal government as a whole “has not been good enough,” but he doesn’t see any value in pointing fingers or delving into hiccups along the way.
Instead, he said, officials need to focus on finding solutions and working together.