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Democrats Chart Ambitious Path With H.R. 1

[ Posted Tuesday, November 13th, 2018 – 17:55 PST ]

While most of the Washington political press continues an obsession that had little (or nothing) to do with the Democrats' midterm election successes -- merely by changing their stock question: "So, if elected, will you immediately move to impeach Trump?" to: "So, now that you've been elected, will your first act be to impeach Trump?" -- the actual journalists over at NPR took the more obvious step of just asking the incoming House Democratic leadership what they were going to do first (without any preconceived and/or obsessive assumptions). The answer they got back was ambitious, if not downright breathtaking. Their scoop has so far been mostly ignored by the rest of the inside-the-Beltway crowd, but will likely grow in importance over time.

The answer NPR got back was that Democrats are going to begin by directly attacking some of the worst aspects of the way American elections are run, as well as some of the worst ethical lapses that Trump has normalized. Here is what the first bill of the incoming House -- or "H.R. 1" -- will aim to accomplish:


The bill would establish automatic voter registration and reinvigorate the Voting Rights Act, crippled by a Supreme Court decision in 2013. It would take away redistricting power from state legislatures and give it to independent commissions.

Other provisions would overturn the Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling, which declared political spending is First Amendment free speech; they would mandate more disclosure of outside money and establish a public financing match for small contributions.

Ethics language in the bill would strike closer to current controversies. When President Trump took office, he said -- accurately -- that the ban on conflicts of interest doesn't cover presidents. The bill would close that loophole, while expanding the anti-bribery law and requiring presidential candidates to make their tax returns public.

That is a lot of things for one bill to accomplish, you've got to admit. Some of it remains rather vague, so it will be interesting to see the final language when the bill appears. Some of the goals may in fact be unconstitutional in a mere bill and may in fact require amending the Constitution. Especially with a conservative majority on the Supreme Court.

Let's try to break the bill's stated goals down, one by one. First, establishing automatic voter registration is a great idea. This would not "nationalize" the election process, but it would add to the already-existing federal minimum requirements for how the individual states carry out their elections process. Automatic voter registration means that any time you interact with the state government (to get a driver's license, for example), you will be automatically registered to vote unless you specifically opt out by telling them not to do so. This improves the existing "motor-voter" rules and makes the process opt-out rather than opt-in, which should mean more people will wind up registered.

Reinvigorating the Voting Rights Act is long overdue. Ever since sections of it were eviscerated by the Supreme Court, the amount of election shenanigans has increased, especially in the South. Now, critics of the old Voting Rights Act had a point in that it hadn't been updated in a long time, but any new legislation should serve to do so.

Taking away the power to gerrymander would have a monumental effect on the House of Representatives, forever. Removing the decision-making process from the politicians and handing it over to an independent commission is already happening in multiple states. The system in Arizona was challenged by Republicans, but it was upheld by a Supreme Court decision already. In the election last week, three states voted to make this change by ballot initiative, proving that it is a popular thing to do (even in red states). A fairer and more representative House will be the ultimate result of changing this system. For the past decade, Democrats have been almost frozen out of the House majority due in large part to gerrymandering that happened after the 2010 Census. In decades past, Democrats did the same thing to Republicans. Neither one was right to do so. A law banishing the practice completely would be a positive change for the future.

Overturning the Citizens United decision is one of the issues that might actually require a constitutional amendment. But it'd be a simple one -- a single sentence stating that corporations are not legally people and have no inherent rights would probably do it. More transparent disclosure rules for campaign finances and more public financing would also likely be very popular issues with the general public, who as a whole are already disgusted with the influence of money on American politics.

The ethical laws designed to constrain Trump would be hard for Republicans to publicly oppose, since they are so sensible. Why is the president excluded from the ban on conflicts of interest all other federal employees must adhere to? There's no real reason, and it's almost impossible to argue for the current status quo, really. Beefing up anti-bribery laws would likewise be politically very tough to oppose. Who, after all, can be for bribery?

Of course, the biggest slap in Trump's face would be that part about forcing presidential candidates to release their tax returns. This one may also be challenged on constitutional grounds, since the Constitution itself explicitly lays out who is eligible and it doesn't say anything about tax returns (which didn't exist when the document was written, of course). But, again, it'd be pretty hard for Republicans to make a political case that presidents should be allowed to hide things from the American public.

The entire laundry list of the proposed H.R. 1 is designed to show Democrats throwing down a political marker. Nobody in their right mind expects it to become law any time in the next two years. It would have to make it through the Republican-led Senate, and then signed into law by President Trump, who is a clear target of much of it.

Republicans will try to dismiss H.R. 1 as nothing short of political posturing. Democrats can counter that it is a promise for how Democrats could change things in the future, if the voters hand them the Senate or the White House next time around. Nothing contained within H.R. 1, as currently described, would be unpopular with the public.

From the NPR article again, here is Representative John Sarbanes on what Democrats are hoping to accomplish: "It's three very basic things that I think the public wants to see. [H.R. 1 will] demonstrate that we hear that message loud and clear.... Give us the gavel in the Senate in 2020 and we'll pass it in the Senate. Give us a pen in the Oval Office and we'll sign these kinds of reforms into law.... The path to having the public trust government and politics is a long one, but we have to start someplace."

The designation of a bill as "H.R. 1" is a symbolic one, meant to signify: "This is the highest priority of the next House." There are plenty of other pressing issues which could have been chosen for this honor, of course. H.R. 1 won't be the only item on the Democrats' new agenda, that's for certain. But it is a great opening bid.

Before the NPR story appeared, it had been rumored that behind the scenes the progressives were pressuring Democratic leadership to begin the next session with some form of a "voters' bill of rights." This doesn't entirely accomplish that (there are plenty of other problems with America's election system that desperately need fixing), but it is a giant step in the right direction, that's for sure. It is bold, it is forward-looking, and if passed could make permanent changes to our political system that would reverberate for decades to come.

Politically, it would show America that Democrats are interested in getting some good things done, and not just obsessed over investigations and impeachment. If followed by other wildly popular ideas from the Democratic agenda (as H.R. 2, H.R. 3... etc.), it would throw down a rather large gauntlet and showcase the difference between a Democratic House passing great ideas that could change things for the better with the outgoing Republican House who couldn't seem to agree on anything other than: "Let's cut rich folks' taxes again!" Oh, and of course: "Let's strip medical insurance from as many people as we possibly can!" -- can't forget that one. By starting with actual proposals for positive change in America, Democrats will show that, unlike Paul Ryan and his merry band of Tea Partiers, they have an actual legislative agenda that the voters largely agree with. Even though passing a bill in the House doesn't guarantee success, it will be a concrete step that every Democratic candidate in 2020 (from the presidential nominee on down) will be able to point to and say: "Elect me, and these are the things that we'll get done!" Graded on just that scale alone, the proposed H.R. 1 seems to already be a winner.

-- Chris Weigant

 

Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant

 

30 Comments on “Democrats Chart Ambitious Path With H.R. 1”

  1. [1] 
    Paula wrote:

    Thanks for this rundown - good column!

  2. [2] 
    ListenWhenYouHear wrote:

    I love this!! Make the Republicans come out against common sense laws people will get behind and watch them try to make up reasons why they are bad! It’ll be the final nail on the GOP’s coffin if it works.

  3. [3] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    certainly beats a hundred attempts to take away people's healthcare.

  4. [4] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    how about a california style budget law... "we don't get paid until we've done our job," should dominate at least one or two news cycles...

  5. [5] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Washington could learn a great deal from California.

  6. [6] 
    Don Harris wrote:

    Why did they have to ask the question?

    Didn't we just endure a campaign that included these candidates saying what they would do if they were elected?

    Is the question an admission that what the candidates say during the campaign is different than what they do once elected?

    "... a simple sentence stating that corporations are not legally people and have no inherent rights would probably do it."

    That would do it, alright. Unless it includes an exemption for political organizations, then organizations such as MoveOn, Our Revolution, Move to Amend, etc. would have no inherent rights.

    "Who, after all, can be FOR bribery?"

    Everyone here that is not supporting One Demand.

    As John Sarbanes said "The path to having the public trust government and politics is a long one, but we have to start someplace."

    Elect me and these things will done has been and still is an EMPTY promise.

    Let's make them do something BEFORE they get elected!

  7. [7] 
    TheStig wrote:

    Good ol' NPR!

    My home and auto radio tuners might as well be soldered to my local NPR station. It's the only radio worth listening to these days....at least in my market. Not just for the news....the music is diverse and very well curated.

    Dysfuntional Donny Two Scoops is giving the Democrats some very easy plays. Sulk on!

  8. [8] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    of course, if democrats are going to have a platform the whole country can get behind, it stands to reason that their first order of business should be to institute voting based on pie. the best part of the pie agenda is that they don't have to wait until an election to have pie, they can have pie now. who could possibly be against pie? CW and all the weigantians who have not come out in favor of pie should be ashamed of their tacit support of big cake and canned whipped cream.

  9. [9] 
    John M wrote:

    [8] nypoet22

    "CW and all the weigantians who have not come out in favor of pie should be ashamed of their tacit support of big cake and canned whipped cream."

    But canned whipped cream goes great on pie! How can you have pie without at least some whipped cream on top or ice cream on the side a la mode?

  10. [10] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    @john m,

    a la mode is of course permissible. although it may once have been pie-centric, canned whipped cream is now part of the big cake agenda, and under control of the BCP's. however, if you come out publicly in favor of pie, your canned whipped cream tendencies may be overlooked.

    JL

  11. [11] 
    Don Harris wrote:

    Simple Simon met a pieman
    going to the fair.
    Says Simple Simon to the pieman
    let me taste your wares.

    Says the pieman to Simple Simon
    show me first your penny.
    Says Simple Simon to the pieman
    indeed I have not any.

  12. [12] 
    jay wrote:

    Just for shits and giggles, if Republicans actually 'try to dismiss H.R. 1 as nothing short of political posturing', a Democratic Congressperson must ask, on the House Floor, what exactly (knowing Obama would never sign) the 70 or so GOP votes to repeal the ACA were.

  13. [13] 
    James T Canuck wrote:

    With the Dems now in control of the house, it makes perfect sense for them to press sensible legislative goals for the next two years. The GOP aren't interested in open books and voter rights, it would erode their power. Putting redistricting in the hands of non-partisan hands, establishing universal voting rights and getting the Russian-backed NRA out of politics, along with other bribery factories, will go a long way to actually having a democracy. The present farce will go along way in making the American system less of a plutocracy, and more of a democracy as intended by the founders. (George Washington was the wealthiest man in the colonies, but still preferred governance of the people over plutocracy. If he could get over it, why not others?)

    Let's see how it plays out, I'd still like to see Trump put against the wall for his myriad of crimes, but tempering the actions of the incoming house will pay bigger dividends in 2020.

    LL&P

  14. [14] 
    Kick wrote:

    Russ
    2

    I love this!! Make the Republicans come out against common sense laws people will get behind and watch them try to make up reasons why they are bad!

    Yep!

    I did have that drink for you on election night when you were infuriated when trying to cast your ballot; it sure sounded like you were facing every single one of those myriad of ways to be disenfranchised.

    You're right they're going to have to make up some good BS to continue to disenfranchise the electorate because the facts are quite simply not in their favor: The GOP is against addressing voting issues because Republicans gain and hold onto power through the routine disenfranchisement of voters. The last thing the GOP wants is for a vast majority of legal voters to be able to easily cast a ballot. That's why they constantly scream about nearly nonexistent voter fraud while taking proactive measures to make it near impossible for many American citizens to cast a valid vote. Can you imagine the collective freak out and heads exploding across Red-state territory if voting in all 50 states and DC were made as convenient and accessible to everyone as the vote-by-mail system adopted in Oregon? It'd be sick to watch. ;)

    A person ought to be able to vote in America without the BS y'all were put through on election day. I would wager there were at minimum at least a quarter million voters in Georgia who were disenfranchised in one way or another, and now is the time to change that. Texas voters face a lot of the same issues, but the fact that against all those shenanigans Beto O'Rourke came within 2.6% of defeating Ted Cruz and Stacy Abrams within a hair's breath is something to build on... full steam ahead. :)

  15. [15] 
    Kick wrote:

    Don Harris
    6

    "Who, after all, can be FOR bribery?"

    Everyone here that is not supporting One Demand.

    So you believe everyone that doesn't support your failed attempt at political activism is "FOR bribery"?

    Unless you're kidding, I regret to inform you that nothing is wrong with the rest of the world; however you would be well served to seek professional help for paranoid personality disorder. #Seriously

  16. [16] 
    Kick wrote:

    JL
    8

    who could possibly be against pie? CW and all the weigantians who have not come out in favor of pie should be ashamed of their tacit support of big cake and canned whipped cream.

    I blame the scare-a-van barreling toward the Southern border with Small Pox, cake, and New Shimmer Non-Dairy Floor Wax. ;)

    https://view.yahoo.com/show/saturday-night-live/clip/40020440/shimmer-floor-wax

    And I have respect for pie... pizza, pizza. :)

  17. [17] 
    Don Harris wrote:

    Kick-
    Semi-kidding.

    Anyone that voted for Big Money candidates in 2018 may not realize they support bribery but they certainly voted for it.

  18. [18] 
    Don Harris wrote:

    Jay-
    Apparently you don't understand there are differences between the two parties.

    I am surprised no one has pointed out the flaw of your false equivalency argument. I guess with Michale still missing they are out of practice.

    Just because the Dems do the same thing as Republicans, it's okay because of the differences in the parties and because Dems do it for different reasons than Republicans.

    Republicans were passing the ACA repeals for political posturing. The Dems would pass HR1 to show "how Democrats could change things in the future".

    Republicans take Big Money because they are corrupt. Dems take Big Money because they need it compete with the Republicans.

  19. [19] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    the main difference between h.r.1 and the 54 attempted aca repeals is the eventual result if similar legislation ultimately passed into law. in the event that they both passed, the democratic bills would result in tens of thousands more people voting, while the republican bills would result in tens of thousands more people dying.

    of course, neither one addresses the core issue of pie, so i guess they're really both the same.

  20. [20] 
    Balthasar wrote:

    Don [18]: Yep. Take out the snarky cynicism and naive focus on process over policy, and you're essentially correct. Good to see that you're making progress.

    Now you need to learn to look at content.

    Notice, for instance, that this bill doesn't simply blow something up without an adequate replacement.

    Nancy knows: if you really want to put heat on your opponent, propose something their constituents might actually want to see happen. That's how the process moves forward. Hell, in six month's time, the GOP might even claim that these ideas were theirs all along!

  21. [21] 
    James T Canuck wrote:

    Well, if Trump was feeling a bit scuffed up and out of sorts, the arrest of Michael Avennatti on suspicion of domestic assault might cheer him up.

    LL&P

  22. [22] 
    Kick wrote:

    JL
    19

    the main difference between h.r.1 and the 54 attempted aca repeals is the eventual result if similar legislation ultimately passed into law. in the event that they both passed, the democratic bills would result in tens of thousands more people voting, while the republican bills would result in tens of thousands more people dying.

    Great point. Also, if H.R. 1 was ultimately passed into law, it would overturn the Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United and mandate more disclosure of outside money and establish a public financing match for small contributions, which absolutely and unequivocally addresses Don's core issue of "Big Money."

    The fact that Don Harris is still busy posting the same ridiculous bullshit that is laser focused on proving how Republicans and Democrats are the same when Democrats' H.R. 1 actually does address many of his core issues tells you everything you need to know.

    of course, neither one addresses the core issue of pie, so i guess they're really both the same.

    Another great point, of course. Now... put on your thinking cap, close your eyes, and imagine a scenario where you had spent an inordinate amount of time whining about how both parties were corrupt on a scale akin to Satan and Hitler for not addressing your core issue and then one of the "bastards" had the wherewithal to make pie crust, filling, and pizza pie an integral part of their H.R. 1 number one priority, and your response was more of your same canned whipped cream spew.

    Ponder on that for just a smidge and then answer me this:

    Would it surprise you in the least if someone/anyone of the regular commenters on this board or even the author of the blog told you to take your pie and shove it straight up your backside?

    Asking for a friend, of course. ;)

  23. [23] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    @kick,

    sorry, i just don't feel that way. not even about pie.

    ;p
    JL

  24. [24] 
    Kick wrote:

    JL
    23

    sorry, i just don't feel that way. not even about pie.

    So... you lack the courage of your convictions, sir?

    I did not take you for a man who wouldn't put his money... scratch that... I mean pie where his mouth is. ;)

  25. [25] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    @kick,

    i will always put my pie where my mouth is (dairy allergy notwithstanding). however, in spite of don's assertions to the contrary, other parts of my body are off limits.

    JL

  26. [26] 
    Don Harris wrote:

    "What's the ugliest part of your body?
    What's the ugliest part of your body?
    Some say your nose,
    some say your toes,
    but I think it's your mind."
    -Frank Zappa
    from We're Only in it for the Money

  27. [27] 
    Don Harris wrote:

    Kick-
    You seem to have the ability to know what HR1 would actually be if it were passed into law even though at this point it is only a concept.

    If the actual law resembles the concept as much as the ACA resembled the concept on a public option then HR1 will not accomplish what you think it will.

    But at this point HR1 is not even advanced beyond the concept point as far as One Demand is.

    At this point HR1 should be called HR PufnStuf.

  28. [28] 
    John M wrote:

    [25] nypoet22

    "i will always put my pie where my mouth is (dairy allergy notwithstanding). however, in spite of don's assertions to the contrary, other parts of my body are off limits."

    What about deconstructed pie? Don't knock it until you've tried it. Pie filling feels wonderful on certain other body parts, for instance. Plus it has the added advantage of being completely edible and biodegradable. So it's environmentally safe pie.

  29. [29] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    @john,
    i'll take your word for it.
    JL

  30. [30] 
    Kick wrote:

    Don Harris
    27

    You seem to have the ability to know what HR1 would actually be if it were passed into law even though at this point it is only a concept.

    You seem to have the ability to miss the forest for the trees on an all too frequent basis. Do you need the definition of the word "ultimately" explained to you, or are you quite content looking like the uneducated impecunious schmo you claim to be in your bio?

    If the actual law resembles the concept as much as the ACA resembled the concept on a public option then HR1 will not accomplish what you think it will.

    While I recognize your expertise and have no opposition whatsoever to your testimony as an expert in "concepts that will not accomplish anything," I do forcefully object to the ridiculous nonsensical assertion that you know what I'm thinking.

    But at this point HR1 is not even advanced beyond the concept point as far as One Demand is.

    Three things:

    * You would be wise to stay in your wheelhouse and discuss things you actually know, which is a short list as you've heretofore acknowledged and proven.

    * While it's "newer" than your tired BS, it's freaking hysterically comical that you'd compare the ultimate intent of the concepts of HR-1 to your own failed political venture in an attempt to besmirch it by comparison.

    * Your shit is losing to pie! :)

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