WASHINGTON -- Since he began his new job in January, Rep. Eric Swalwell, a freshman Democrat from Pleasanton, has commuted roughly 250,000 miles between California and Washington.
That's equivalent to flying around the planet 10 times -- and it's not an unusual commute for Californian representatives.
Rep. David Valadao, R-Hanford, didn't mind the three-hour drive from Fresno to Sacramento when he served in the Assembly. But add a six-hour flight across country, and the commute begins to take a serious toll. Rep. Alan Lowenthal, D-Long Beach, calls the repeated trips the hardest part of his job.
The long commute inspired Swalwell to introduce a measure that would let members vote remotely on noncontroversial bills.
Under HR287, which Swalwell introduced in late June, representatives could vote on low-priority issues via secure computers on the road or from home. They would also be able to use video conferencing to join committee hearings.
It's one thing to fly coast-to-coast for a major piece of legislation. It's another to cast a vote for a routine amendment or a measure to name a post office.
"If I've learned anything from traveling about 2,500 miles each trip, members from all over the country put in a lot of air miles for this job, and there's a lot of work we can do remotely," he said in an interview.
Only a few dozen members from Alaska, Hawaii or the upper Northwest have longer ones than the 39-member California delegation.
"We spend so much time in Congress voting on bills that pass with 400-plus votes for lower priority issues -- naming post offices and letting people use Capitol grounds for XYZ," Swalwell said. "This would let us spend more time in the House doing the substantial, meaty stuff that our constituents want us to do."
Remote voting and video conferencing would be the House's biggest voting change since 1970, when it replaced voice votes with an electronic system that shows votes on a giant screen above the gallery.
"We're already on our iPads and iPhones," Swalwell said. "Let's start using them to perform these perfunctory tasks."
Co-sponsored by Lowenthal and two Western state Republicans, the resolution would amend House rules to allow remote votes on noncontroversial measures passed under a procedure known as "suspension of the rules."
Two-thirds of the members present must agree to suspend the rules, allowing for speedy approval of routine matters.
No opponents to the resolution have surfaced.
Swalwell calls the bill MOBILE: Members Operating to Be Innovative and Link Everyone Resolution.
"One of my goals here in Congress, being the youngest member of the California delegation, is to really try and get the institution to upgrade the way it communicates with its constituents," said Swalwell, 32.
In an era of partisan divide, the desire to be home is something that representatives from both parties agree on.
"If you don't do what's best for your district, you won't be here for very long," said Rep. David Valadao, R-Fresno.
"It's six hours just flying time," he said.
"From door to door, the best-case scenario is nine hours. It usually runs closer to 10," Valadao said before yawning.
But not everyone minds the commute.
It can be valuable, said Rep. John Garamendi, D—Fairfield. "Quiet time and five hours with no phone calls -- you learn to appreciate it," he said.
That could soon change, however, if airlines allow passengers to chatter away on cellphones in flight.
House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, who has logged well over a million miles between coasts, often uses the time to answer constituent mail. Former Rep. Ellen Tauscher from Contra Costa County married the pilot she met on her flights.
Swalwell, who has been active on Twitter and recently posted videos of a vote on Vine, represents a new generation in Congress comfortable with technology and social media.
He said that the proposal was not an attempt to limit working hours or do away with a full-time Congress, as has been proposed by Texas Gov. Rick Perry.
"It's not one of those ... let's-go-to-a-part-time-Legislature ideas," he said.
Instead, he added, it's a matter of taking lessons from the high-tech companies in his own district and applying them to the ways of Washington.
"I've seen how they communicate," Swalwell said, "and we could learn a thing or two from the private sector.''
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