For the second time in two years the House Democrats have passed HR 1, their signed anti-corruption and voting reform law. But even though her party now holds a majority in the Senate, the bill has a tough road ahead of it.
As the numeral suggests, HR 1 and its Senate S 1 component – also known as the For the People Act – is the Democrats' first legislative priority. The comprehensive law to reform democracy has been at the top of the list since the House Democrats regained a majority in the medium term in 2018 and immediately set about expanding voting rights and curbing the influence of money in politics.
Much is covered in its nearly 800 pages, but some of its key points are the creation of a national system for automatic voter registration, the introduction of transparency requirements for political advertising, and the establishment of impartial redistribution commissions to end partisan wandering.
The 2019 poll now shows the bill is widespread with the public, but it didn't go anywhere in the Republican-led Senate in 2019. Even with the current lean Democratic control (a 50:50 Senate with Vice President Kamala Harris as the tiebreaker), it will be incredibly difficult to pass the 60 votes required to bypass the Senate filibuster. The policy is even tighter this time; Some moderate House Democrats, who had previously voted for the bill, pushed more aggressively for changes to the current bill.
The future of the law in the Senate is also untested, as then-majority leader McConnell never allowed it to speak in 2019.
"If Mitch McConnell is unwilling to put 10 Republicans in support of this landmark reform, I believe the Democrats will step back and reassess the situation," said Rep. John Sarbanes (D-MD), author of HR 1, a current interview with Vox. "There are many ways to redesign the filibuster so that (the bill) has a way forward."
One way that is being discussed is to partially change the Senate's filibuster rules to allow democracy reform laws like HR 1 to move forward by simple majority and therefore potentially pass a party line vote. That would be different from blowing up the filibuster completely, but it could still be pushed back by Senate institutionalists, even in the Democratic Party like Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV), a staunch supporter, the filibuster in place to keep.
Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), the chair of the Senate committee that will mark up and advance the bill, said she wants to get the bill on the ground and see what support is for it before moving on to a possible filibuster reform .
"We'll go down. Then we'll see where we are," Klobuchar said in an interview with Vox, saying her committee would look, "is there any filibuster reform that could be carried out generally or specifically?"
Democrats argue that voting and democratic reforms are popular and long overdue
The Democrats hope the 2020 elections will provide them with a case for this bill. Because of the Covid-19 pandemic, Americans in many states have been given more options and flexibility to vote by mail or in person. The result was a record 158.4 million ballots cast; The turnout in the 2020 presidential election was 7 percentage points higher than in 2016, according to the Pew Research Center.
"We had more people in the November election than ever before," Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson told reporters on Tuesday.
HR 1 would cement many of these temporary expansions, among other things. Recent polls by the progressive firm Data for Progress have shown that the bill is universally popular with all parties and is supported by a majority of Democratic, independent and Republican voters. The poll found that 67 percent of likely national voters supported HR 1, including 56 percent of Republicans, 68 percent of Independents, and 77 percent of Democrats.
However, Republican legislations in several states are moving in the opposite direction. At least 33 states have already introduced, pre-tabled, or adopted 165 restrictive bills to tighten voting requirements, according to the Brennan Center, including Georgia – the state that gave Democrats tight control over the Senate. The US Supreme Court is currently hearing arguments in an Arizona case that may Further weaken the voting rights law and restrict protection for minority voters across the country.
Klobuchar told Vox that in previous years, when the parties lost the national elections, they would judge where they went wrong. The Republicans, she added, are doubling the restriction on electoral access.
"These people say, instead of doing that, let's just do it so that fewer people vote. That's how we do it," said Klobuchar.
Newly proposed election restrictions, given that 30 state legislatures are controlled by Republicans – compared to 18 controlled by Democrats – mean Republicans will have more power to redraw Congress cards in the 2021 redistribution process. With no impartial redistribution commissions (which includes HR 1), Republicans can redraw maps again to get a head start in the 2022 and beyond.
"If we can achieve and legislate this in the next few months, there will be plenty of time to do many of these things in time for the 2022 midterm elections, including reform of redistribution," said Sarbanes.
What's on the bill?
The For the People Act is almost 800 pages long. Broadly speaking, it can be broken down into three areas: expanding voting rights, implementing campaign funding reform, and tightening ethics laws for members of Congress.
Here are some key points on the bill, broken down by category:
Creates a new national automatic voter registration that prompts voters to log out instead of logging in to ensure more people are registered to vote. Asks top state election officials to automatically register eligible unregistered citizens.
Requires each state to provide online options for registering, correcting, deleting, or determining party affiliation of voters.
Requires at least 15 consecutive days of early voting for federal elections; Early voting sites would be open for at least 10 hours a day. The bill also prohibits states from restricting a person's voting rights in the mail, and requires states to prepay postage on postal voting envelopes.
Establishment of independent redistribution commissions in states to move to new congressional districts and to end partisan changes in federal elections.
Prohibits deletion of voter lists and prohibits the use of non-forwardable email to remove voters from lists.
Restores the right to vote for persons convicted of crimes that have completed their sentences; However, the bill does not restore the rights of offenders currently being sentenced in a correctional facility.
Establish public funding of campaigns with small donations. This has long been Sarbanes' vision: the federal government would offer a voluntary 6-1 game for candidates for President and Congress, meaning that for every dollar a candidate raises from small donations, the federal government would raise six times as much Would make money. The maximum small donation that can be achieved is capped at $ 200. This program is not funded by taxpayers' money. Instead, the money would come from adding a 4.75 percent fee for criminal and civil fines, fees, penalties, or settlements with banks and corporations that commit corporate misconduct (remember) Wells Fargo).
Supports a constitutional amendment to end Citizens United.
Passes the DISCLOSURE LAW, urged by Rep. David Cicilline and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, both Democrats from Rhode Island. That would require super PACs and "dark money" political organizations to make their donors public.
Passes the Honest Ads Act, supported by Sens. Klobuchar and Mark Warner (VA), who would require Facebook and Twitter to disclose the source of money for political advertisements on their platforms and to share how much money has been spent.
Announces all political spending by government contractors and slows the flow of foreign funds into the elections by targeting Shell companies.
Restructuring of the Bundestag Election Commission to five instead of six commissioners in order to break the political deadlock in the organization.
Prohibits any coordination between candidates and super PACs.
Asks the President and Vice President to disclose 10 years of tax returns. Candidates for President and Vice-President must do this as well.
Prevents Congressmen from using tax dollars to resolve sexual harassment or discrimination cases.
Empower the Office of Government Ethics to exercise more scrutiny, enforcement, and more stringent lobbying registration requirements. This includes increased surveillance of foreign agents through the Foreign Agents Registration Act.
Creates a new code of ethics for the US Supreme Court to ensure all branches of government are affected by the new law.
Democrats have a very narrow window to pass the bill
HR 1 could be one last-ditch effort for Democrats to compete in house races if they make it through Congress and to President Joe Biden's desk.
"The President continues to work to protect the fundamental right to vote and to make it easier for all eligible Americans to vote," White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki replied on Wednesday to a question from Vox. “That is why we have to adopt reforms like HR 1 and restore the voting rights law. It's a priority for the President, something he will work with members of Congress to move forward. "
On Thursday, Biden released a statement praising House Democrats for passing the bill and pledging to include it in law "after it goes through the legislative process so that together we can strengthen American democracy for the next election and everyone else." Come on. "The real test of the bill, however, will be whether it can get through the Senate.
Senate Democrats aren't ready to blow up the Senate filibuster just yet, but they are also finding ways to bypass it to pass key bills.
This week, the Democrats are using the budget vote to get Biden's current Covid-19 stimulus plan through the Senate with just 51 votes. There's a good chance they'll do the same for Biden's upcoming infrastructure plan, depending on how big this package is and how many Republicans will be backing it.
However, Democrats can only use the budget vote twice, and it can only be used on things that directly affect the federal budget. Voting rights and anti-corruption actions do not fall into this category, and the authors of HR 1 have no impression that this could be achieved through a budget vote. This leaves them with narrower options for HR 1 and even fewer options for other priorities such as passing universal background checks or reforming immigration.
Although Manchin and Senator Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) have repeatedly stated that they will not get rid of the Senate filibuster, some of their Democratic counterparts are confident they could change their minds if the party's agenda encounters repeated opposition from Republicans .
"You bring it down a few times and let it get in the way. You see the effect of malicious intent on some members' views of the filibuster," Sen. Whitehouse recently told reporters. "It's one thing to say," I don't want to get rid of the filibuster. "It's a different thing to say," Okay, this is getting out of hand, "after repeatedly encountering malicious intent.
That might be too optimistic. When Manchin was asked again by reporters this week if there was any point where he would change his mind about the filibuster, he shouted, "Never!" according to Hill & # 39; s Jordain Carney.
“Jesus Christ! What do you never understand?” Manchin added.
In order not to blow up the filibuster, the Senate Democrats have to keep finding loopholes to pass their agenda.
Correction, March 4th: In an earlier version of this article, the amount of a proposed campaign funding fee was incorrectly stated in HR 1. Public funding of campaigns by law would include a 4.75 percent fee for criminal and civil fines, fees, penalties, or settlements with banks and corporations who fund corporate misconduct.