"For The People Act" To Get House Vote

[ Posted Wednesday, March 3rd, 2021 – 17:49 UTC ]

We are in the midst of one of those rare seasons in Washington where Congress actually gets some things done. Joe Biden's legislative legacy will begin with his $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill, which now seems all but certain to pass. Hiking the minimum wage to $15 an hour fell by the wayside, true, but the rest of the bill will be historic nonetheless (there are all sorts of things in it, above and beyond the pandemic relief and $1,400 checks and state and local aid). Meanwhile, the House is about to begin a marathon period of passing Democratic agenda items and sending the bills over to the Senate. First and foremost of these is H.R. 1 -- the "For The People Act." And if even some of the key ideas contained in this breathtaking and sweeping proposal ever make it into law, it would likely be the most consequential election law ever passed. So it's a good bill for Nancy Pelosi to lead with.

This isn't the first time the bill has been introduced. It was H.R. 1 in the previous Congress as well (bills in either chamber are numbered sequentially, meaning this was the first bill filed in January, as well as first back in January of 2019). Passing it would override pretty much all the voter suppression schemes the Republicans are now trying to hustle through as many statehouses as possible. But it would do far more than just that.

I originally wrote about this landmark bill two years ago. And I'm just going to paste in the list of what the For The People Act contains from that earlier article (saves having to type it all out again). Here are all the things the For The People Act would do:

  • Require all states to automatically register voters who have contact with state government, unless the person opts out of being registered.
  • Require all states to institute same-day voter registration.
  • Require all states to institute online voter registration.
  • Require states to designate colleges and universities as voter registration agencies.
  • Require all states to have 15 days of early voting, with sites located near public transportation.
  • Require all states to use paper ballots, so that recounts will be possible.
  • Require all states to count provisional ballots from people voting at wrong precinct.
  • Require all states to have postage-free absentee ballots.
  • Require all states to create nonpartisan redistricting commissions for House redistricting, to end gerrymandering forever.
  • Require all states to re-enfranchise felons after they have completed their sentence.
  • Require all states to ban "voter caging," purging voter rolls using non-forwardable mail, and purging voter rolls of people who have not voted in previous elections.
  • Make Election Day a national federal holiday.
  • Increase federal funding to update and secure election infrastructure.
  • Create a public financing system for House races that matches every dollar in small donations ($200 and under) with six dollars of public money. Participants in this system would be banned from raising money from large donors.
  • Create small-donor matching system for presidential elections, as well (Senate elections would be addressed in a separate bill).
  • Nonprofits and other groups must disclose donors if they contribute to election campaigns.
  • Online campaign ads will be required to disclose donors, just like broadcast ads.
  • Shrink the Federal Election Commission from six members to five, to avoid the constant deadlocks which are so common now.
  • Ban coordination between super PACs and campaigns.
  • Require presidential inauguration committees to disclose expenditures and ban them from spending money on things not directly related to the inauguration.
  • Require disclosure of donations to inauguration committees from corporations, nonprofits, and government contractors.
  • Require presidential candidates to disclose 10 years of their tax returns.
  • Require the president and vice president to follow executive branch's conflict-of-interest regulations.
  • Require all presidential appointees to recuse themselves from any decisions involving the president or his family.
  • Ban the president and vice president from contracting with the federal government.
  • Give the Office of Government Ethics new enforcement powers.
  • Require public disclosure of any waivers given by the O.G.E.
  • Widen the definition of who must register as a lobbyist.
  • Ban former government employees from cashing in (through "the revolving door") for two years after they leave their service.
  • Require the Supreme Court to develop a code of ethics to deal with conflicts of interest and recusals.
  • Ban members of Congress from using taxpayer funds to settle employment discrimination cases.
  • Ban members of Congress from serving on corporate boards.

As you can see, "breathtaking" is an entirely appropriate word to use. It wouldn't solve every problem with American elections, but it certainly would solve most of them. And it would completely obliterate all the Republican efforts to make it much harder to vote, as a federal mandate.

This measure is being paired with the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Act, which would essentially reinstate the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (as well as properly updating it, to avoid the constitutional issues cited by the Supreme Court when they overturned most of it). Democrats are certainly showing they are serious about making some well-needed changes.

But how successful will this effort be? Well, that's up to the Senate. With the legislative filibuster rule still in place, it is highly doubtful that the For The People Act could garner enough Republican votes to pass. In fact, currently there are zero Republicans in either house who have expressed support, and a whole lot of opposition to it, from Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell on down.

This means that there are really only two chances for success. The first and most obvious would be to eliminate the filibuster rule entirely. This does not currently have enough Democratic support, however. Which is why Senator Amy Klobuchar floated a trial-balloon idea: perhaps get rid of the filibuster just for civil rights and voting rights legislation? Such a limited and narrow change might be easier to talk Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema into, although so far both still sound pretty adamant about their opposition to changing the filibuster in any way. Joe Biden also hasn't been a big fan of eliminating the filibuster, but that could always change if he sees virtually all of his agenda get stalled in Congress.

The second chance for success would be to split the bill up. Perhaps some of it could gain Republican support and actually pass? That seems a bit farfetched (they're largely against all of the proposed changes, from everything I've heard). But if political pressure were brought to bear, it could still be a possibility. Except for the more esoteric items on that list, most of it would seem pretty commonsensical to the overwhelming majority of voters. And Republicans are already getting a little concerned that their gigantic "Make voting as hard as possible!" campaign is going to come back to bite them when they try to get re-elected. Democrats have to make this case as strongly as possible, which is what I wrote about yesterday.

Some of the For The People Act might be shoehorned into the next budget reconciliation bill that comes up (another one is scheduled to, later this year). Anything that could be considered part of the federal budget would be fair game (as long as the Senate parliamentarian agrees). So money could be appropriated for the states to make all of these election changes, and that is a valid use of the federal budget (one would assume). But this dodge won't work for all of it.

As you can see, though, that list is a long one chock full of good ideas to reform voting and ethics and a lot of other things. It is one of the most ambitious pieces of legislation I've ever seen, in fact. I'm usually a big fan of the comprehensive legislation approach, too, but at this point I would be happy to see any of these ideas make it into law. So in this particular instance, I don't really care how it happens, just that at least some of it does.

-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


9 Comments on “"For The People Act" To Get House Vote”

  1. [1] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    President Biden hasn't been a big fan of eliminating the filibuster mostly because of a kind of reverse 'what's good for the goose is good for the gander' adage in that when Republicans are in power again they will just need a simple majority to pass their usual nonsense.

    But, there's the rub (for Republicans) and the reason to now be in favour of ending the filibuster - if Democrats play their cards wisely (there's another rub, ahem) and Republicans continue with their nonsense - like, for example, their cult of economic failure and other bad policies for the people - then it will be Democrats who will be taking advantage of ending the filibuster for a very, very long time.

    So, I think Biden might see the light on this!

  2. [2] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    But if political pressure were brought to bear, it could still be a possibility.

    Do Democrats know how to do that? Bring political pressure to bear, I mean.

    It seems Biden is doing a pretty good job of it, so far, as he redefines what 'bipartisanship' is all about.

  3. [3] 
    John M from Ct. wrote:

    I've been a big fan of H.R. 1 since I first read about it two years ago when the Dems retook the House. And then, of course, it was only symbolic as the Senate was still controlled by the Republicans.

    Now, as you note, it's back and it's big and it's .... still unable to pass the Senate, thanks to the filibuster and certain Democrats' disinterest in getting rid of the filibuster.

    I wonder if Pelosi is leading with this one, expecting it to collapse in the Senate, so as to force the filibuster issue? After all, almost any Democrat can see the threat to their voting base that all the state-based GOP anti-voting laws are going to present in 2022, unless something stops them. If S.1 (H.R. 1's Senate counterpart) dies this spring, will the president find some way to convince Manchin and Sinema that now's the time to do the dirty, one way or another?

    Lastly, you said 'Republicans are already getting a little concerned that their gigantic "Make voting as hard as possible!" campaign is going to come back to bite them when they try to get re-elected.' But you didn't give a link to any story and this is news to me. In the course of feeding my casual political news addiction, I've never heard anything about second thoughts or buyer's remorse by the Repubs about their shivving democracy in the back, in as many ways as possible, as soon as possible.

    Another thing I thought, reading your extensive list of H.R. 1's provisions: what's the constitutional basis for all this? More exactly, what parts of this bill are seriously vulnerable to a Supreme Court knock-down, and which are more immune due to Congress's jurisdiction being ironclad clear?

  4. [4] 
    BashiBazouk wrote:

    I agree that a lot of it feels like it would not make it past the supreme court but they should toss in the voter id card just to troll republicans.

    And hey, if they fell for it, the voter id card would be a reasonable trade if we could get all the rest of it...

  5. [5] 
    MtnCaddy wrote:

    I'm not afraid to dump the filibuster just because Repugs will inevitably someday control the Senate, and will jam their agenda through.

    I say let em! When Repugs control the Senate America we'll see if the Repug agenda is superior to the Dem's. If it is, more power to them. If not we'll vote the Dems back in to take their best shot. Let them compete in the marketplace of ideas, each able in turn to realize their vision without being needless hindered by the vanquished losers, as is the case now.

  6. [6] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:


  7. [7] 
    MtnCaddy wrote:


    Two words, Brother:


  8. [8] 
    Don Harris wrote:

    So we have to wait and see how the "Fool the people Act" plays out.

    If history remains consistent then it will play out as anything that would really open up our electoral system to all participants will be compromised out while the things that protect the two party system from competition will be included.

    A good example would be the public financing system for House races and presidential elections.

    First, let's take note of the 200 dollar limit that defines small "donations". Is that small donations or small donors?

    Would a donor making many donations of under 200 dollars get matching funds on all those donations or just donations up to 200 dollars or would only donors giving less than 200 dollars total get matching funds? Would campaigns have to give back matching funds from donors that give less than 200 dollars (or whatever the limit is to define large donors) when they exceed the limit?

    This would still be COMPLETELY voluntary on the part of campaigns.

    And as it will be passed into law by Deathocrats and Republikillers it will be a scheme desgined to protect the duopoly.

    A good example of this would be the "Clean Elections" experiment in NJ a few years ago.

    This legislation was implemented in a two district trial. It said that the candidates would raise 800 10 dollars contributions and would then qualify for about 500,000 dollars to run their campaign. That was all they were allowed to spend. If a candidate that did not participate raised more money than that the "Clean elections" candidates could get up to another 500,000 dollars.

    The problem is that it was only for the general election so the "Clean elections" candidates still used big money for the primaries and then used those same big money donors to get the 800 10 dollar contributions in the general election.

    And only the Deathocrats and Republikillers qualified for the 500,000 dollars and the additional 500,000 dollars. Any third party or independent candidate that raised the 800 10 dollar contributions only got 50,000 dollars to run their campaign and that was all they were allowed to raise or spend.

    Unless you are giving the same amount to ALL candidates then it is not making a level playing field.

    But if that is done or even if it isn't- how do you pay for this?

    I do not want my tax dollars funding campaigns of people that I do not support and/or that I oppose. I am opposed to even a tax check off, unless that check off does not come out of the money that the taxpayer pays in the tax. It would have to be an additional tax or come from reducing a refund to the taxpayer.

    In addition to these problems with this or any other public financing scheme it is still just waiting for legislation to not solve a problem that can be solved without legislation.

    Citizens can actually accomplish the goal that the public financing claims to solve but doesn't by refusing to vote for any candidate that takes more than 200 dollars from any donor.

    Just like the public financing participation would be voluntary on the part of the candidates but instead of depending on the FEC to enforce it on participating candidates and not having any way to enforce it on non-participating candidates citizens would enforce this on all candidates using their votes.

    And it can start right now and begin being effective in 2022 instead of waiting for legislation to be passed and implemented which is unlikely to happen by 2022 or be effective EVER.

    Wake up. Wise up. Rise up.
    Get Real. Get Credible.

    Choose democracy over Moosepoop.

  9. [9] 
    Kick wrote:

    Don Harris

    Citizens can actually accomplish the goal that the public financing claims to solve but doesn't by refusing to vote for any candidate that takes more than 200 dollars from any donor.

    Millions and millions of eligible voters are already refusing to vote for any candidate at all, and even more multiple millions than that actually already are contributing zero to political candidates.

    When representatives are chosen by actual voters and not by those who refuse to participate (for whatever reason), it should surprise no one that politicians will focus on those who actually cast votes. If you could somehow convince every other voter in Texas to buy into your bullshit, I'd be picking all our representatives.

    Voting ain't rocket science. :)

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