Democrats' First House Bill To Make America A Democracy Again
A big plus from throwing House Republicans out on their ears is that we don't have to worry as much about them trying to kill us. As recently as this summer, they were still planning another go at repealing the Affordable Care Act if they managed to unexpectedly survive midterms like the masked psychopath in a slasher movie. Now, after a bonafide blue wave, we not only can breathe easier, but our shiny new blue House might actually pass positive, non-citizen-murdering legislation.
Friday, Democratic leaders unveiled a sweeping political overhaul bill. It's been in the works for month, as part of the "For the People" campaign platform. People like to argue that Democrats have no message other than "Donald Trump sucks," but there was always something on their Web site. Once and future Speaker Nancy Pelosi has designated the bill "H.R. 1." Other bills might receive a House vote before H.R. 1 but it's still technically the "first one," sort of like Star Wars: The Phantom Menace but not garbage.
Pelosi and John Sarbanes, the plan's principal author, detailed specifics of the bill in a Washington Post op-ed titled "The Democratic majority's first order of business: Restore democracy." That's usually just political hyperbole but these days, it's a pretty sober assessment of the situation on the ground.
H.R 1 will target "special-interest dark money, partisan gerrymandering and devious vote-suppression schemes." It's the "Republicans are evil and trying to destroy the country" bill. From what's going on in North Carolina, Michigan, and Wisconsin, it couldn't come at a better time.
We must renew the Voting Rights Act to protect every citizen's access to the ballot box and restore the vital safeguard of pre-clearance requirements for areas with a history of voter suppression. We will promote national automatic voter registration, bolster our critical election infrastructure against foreign attackers, and put an end to partisan gerrymandering once and for all by establishing federal guidelines to outlaw the practice. No American should face hours-long lines, broken voting machines or rules rigged to keep their vote from being counted in our elections.
Republicans tend to think such proposals are self-serving attempts to help Democrats at the polls. There's something suspicious about a political party that believes more people voting is bad for them. Curse those 15th and 19th Amendments!
There's also an ethics plank, which is obviously a partisan attack at the president, who has none. It requires a president to disclose his tax returns, specifically the 1099 detailing any independent contracting work with Russia. Closer to home, it forbids Congress critters from sending taxpayers the bill for sexual harassment settlements. We've paid off 13 suits over the past 15 years at a total of $300,000, $84,000 of which went to a former House staffer who had to exist in the same zip code as Blake Farenthold.
Super PACs will have to publicly reveal the names of donors exercising their free speech to buy politicians. H.R 1 will also mandate new ethical code for the Supreme Court (maybe no more accused rapists?) and pull the plug on most first-class travel for federal officeholders. That one concerns me a little because I don't want to wind up sitting beside notorious arm-rest hog Cathy McMorris Rodgers from Washington on a future flight.
Democrats also plan to finally pass the Dream Act, as well as protect LGBT Americans with the Equality Act.
Back in 2016, then House Speaker Paul Ryan hyped his "Better Way" plan for Republicans if they took back the White House. He already had the House and Senate, but he needed someone who wasn't Barack Obama -- even if that someone was Trump -- to sign into law all his "fabulously detailed plans" for a "better" America.
Somehow he accomplished next to nothing, even while having control of all branches of government, which every civics-minded Republican will tell you are not chambers. Pelosi just has a single chamber all to her lonesome. She realizes most Democratic bills won't get through the GOP-controlled Senate and if by some fluke they did, they would languish on Trump's desk like vegetables on his dinner plate. But she's gonna whip the votes anyway and put the screws to Trump. And we're all here for it.
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Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He's on the board of the Portland Playhouse theater and writes for the immersive theater Cafe Nordo in Seattle.