House Democrats’ First Bill in 2019 Will Address Voting Rights, Ethics, Big Money


With momentum from historic wins in last month’s midterm elections, incoming House Democrats say their first new order of business will be introducing a sweeping reform bill that aims to restore voter rights, remove big money from campaigns, and strengthen ethics oversight in government.

The latter goal includes requiring presidents to disclose their tax returns.

Democrats announced Bill H.R. 1 in a press conference on Friday and referred to it earlier this week in a Washington Post op-ed by Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi and Maryland Rep. John Sarbanes, who has led efforts to pass campaign finance reform for years.

One important point: The bill Democrats are proposing likely has little chance of making it past the Senate, which is still controlled by Republicans, and zero chance of being signed into law by President Donald Trump.

Nevertheless, it is a good first response to a mandate from voters who clearly want change and are demanding that lawmakers assure someone like Trump never makes it to the White House again.

“Our best friend in this debate is the public,” Pelosi said, according to the Associated Press. “We believe that it will have great support and that message won’t get lost on the Senate or on the president of the United States.”

A fact sheet with highlights of H.R. 1 called for national automatic voter registration, easier early voting and online voter registration, an end to gerrymandering, and a full restoration of the Voting Rights Act, parts of which were struck down by the Supreme Court in 2013. It also calls for better federal support for states to improve election security, including voting systems with paper ballots.

On big donors, H.R. 1 would require all political organizations to disclose their donors. It seeks to “[b]uild a 21st century campaign finance system to increase and multiply the power of small donors, and reaffirm Congress’ authority to regulate money in politics, pushing back on Citizens United.” Rules also would be tightened on super PACS.

“In the face of a torrent of special-interest dark money, partisan gerrymandering and devious vote-suppression schemes, voters elected a House Democratic majority determined to bring real change to restore our democracy,” Pelosi and Sarbanes wrote in the op-ed.

The highlights also include a reform of the Office of Government Ethics and a new “ethical code” for the Supreme Court.

Addressing ethics, transparency, and voter rights out of the gate would help Democrats tackle healthcare and immigration reform later on, Democrats said on Friday, according to the AP.

“First, let’s end the dominance of money in politics,” Pelosi and Sarbanes wrote. “For far too long, big-money and corporate special interests have undermined the will of the people and subverted policymaking in Washington — enabling soaring health-care costs and prescription drug prices, undermining clean air and clean water for our children, and blocking long-overdue wage increases for hard-working Americans.”

Democrats hope to have the bill finalized by Jan. 3, the first day of Congress’ new session. Because it has little chance of passing, Sarbanes said some of the measures could be separated into smaller bills to garner Republican support, Vox reported.

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