- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 1, 2002

The House will consider a resolution tomorrow encouraging states to ensure speedy special elections in case a terrorist attack or other disaster kills a large number of House members.
"The resolution addresses a critical challenge the nation would face if large numbers of representatives were killed in a terrorist attack," said Rep. Christopher Cox of California, the Republican chairman of the House Policy Committee. "In such a case, it would be essential that the House be quickly replenished to ensure that it can meet its constitutional obligations in a time of crisis."
Mr. Cox has been heading a bipartisan panel with Rep. Martin Frost of Texas, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, to examine ways to ensure government can continue functioning in case of a catastrophe that kills or incapacitates many leaders.
The House, unlike the Senate, does not have a mechanism to quickly replace members. The Constitution allows governors to appoint senators to fill vacancies. But House members must be replaced by election, and special elections in some states can take up to six months.
The resolution urges governors and state legislators to amend election laws if necessary so that vacancies in the House of Representatives could be filled quickly.
"I cannot imagine a more important time for the American public to have secure representation in Congress than in a time of national emergency," Mr. Frost said. "This is a sensible, bipartisan bill that I believe should pass overwhelmingly."
Other issues being examined include presidential succession and defining a quorum, the necessary number of congressional members present to conduct business.
Neither the House nor the Senate has a policy to address a scenario in which many members are "incapacitated" hospitalized, quarantined or unable to travel to Washington because of a catastrophe.
A separate independent commission convened Sept. 23 on Capitol Hill to examine and promote action on the same issues.
"What we really need here is for Congress to adopt a will for the American people, to ensure the functioning of our institutions in case there is a catastrophe," said Norman Ornstein, a constitutional scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, which is co-sponsoring the Continuity of Government Commission with the Brookings Institution. "We have a serious gap here."
The newly formed commission composed of a wide range of specialists with experience in government, including former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Health and Human Services Secretary Donna E. Shalala will hear suggestions and make recommendations by January.
The efforts are meant to educate the public, raise public attention to the issue and spur Congress to act, Mr. Ornstein said.
"I think we need to move in a more expedited fashion," he said.
Mr. Ornstein and others have recommended a constitutional amendment as the best way to address the problems. Rep. Brian Baird, Washington Democrat, told the commission on Sept. 23 that he had a proposal to amend the Constitution so that House vacancies could be filled by gubernatorial appointment. Sen. Arlen Specter, Pennsylvania Republican, is offering a similar amendment in the Senate.
House Republican leaders and the congressional panel have been reluctant to take this path, preferring instead to consider statutory and rules changes.

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