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Wishing them well, as voting buttons gather dust

Published: Saturday, July 7, 2012 1:20 a.m. CST

Illinois has a U.S. House member and senator on the sidelines for health reasons. We wish them full recoveries. Should Congress amend the Constitution to allow temporary replacements who can vote on the House and Senate floors? Let the issue be examined.

Of all the powers a U.S. senator has, voting on the Senate floor is the most important.

Of all the powers a U.S. representative has, voting on the House floor is the most important.

When a member of the Senate or House cannot cast votes, his or her constituents go unrepresented on important issues.

U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk, a Republican, has been recovering from the serious stroke he suffered Jan. 21. He was released from a rehabilitation center in early May. All signs indicate he is progressing with his recovery. His mental faculties will be fine, doctors have said, but the ability to use the left side of his body may not return to normal.

We continue to wish Kirk a full recovery.

U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. has taken a leave of absence from his House duties, his staff announced last week. The medical leave began on June 10. Jackson, who represents a portion of Chicago, was said to be suffering from exhaustion.

Earlier this week, Jackson’s office announced he would be gone longer than initially thought because of “physical and emotional ailments” that remain somewhat of a mystery.

Still, we certainly wish Jackson a speedy recovery as well.

What of the empty seats that Kirk and Jackson have temporarily left behind in Congress?

When important bills come before the Senate, Kirk has been unable to cast votes on behalf of his constituents. The same situation faces constituents of Jackson’s House district.

It’s odd to us that, for many other positions of public and private leadership, provisions are in place to temporarily fill vacancies caused by illness with people whose titles begin with “interim” or “acting.”

The Founding Fathers, however, made no provisions to allow the appointment of an acting senator or interim congressman when elected lawmakers are incapacitated by illness.

Sauk Valley residents know how illness can silence their voice in Congress. When U.S. Rep. Lane Evans, D-Rock Island, was stricken by a worsening of his Parkinson’s disease early in 2006, he remained in office the rest of the year, but missed more than 92 percent of total House votes.

Congress faces vital issues of war, peace, health care, the economy, government spending, the national debt and more. All hands are needed on deck. Is it prudent to continue to have no provisions to temporarily replace lawmakers who are felled by illness?

In posing the question, we offer no solution, and we recognize the constitutional complexities – and potential for mischief – that could be involved in a process that establishes an “interim” member of the U.S. House or Senate.

But we encourage federal lawmakers and the people they serve to give the matter some thought and discuss possible alternatives to the status quo.

Dusty voting buttons, after all, do the public no good.

 

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