Democrats Unveil Government Overhaul Legislation
Top House Democrats unveiled their sweeping "good government" legislation Friday, fulfilling their promise to give the issue pride of place now that they have the majority's power to set the agenda for half of Congress. But their bill, which will get the label HR 1, looks to be several modifications and many weeks away from passage by the House and still looks to be dead-on-arrival in a Senate still under Republican control.
The aim of the package – which among other things would introduce some public financing of congressional campaigns, shrink the role of partisan politics in drawing House districts, expand voter registration and access to the polls, tighten government ethics rules and require presidential nominees to turn over their tax returns – is "to clean up corruption and restore integrity to government," Speaker Nancy Pelosi declared.
Democrats have plainly concluded that, even if none of the pieces of their sprawling measure become law, the challenges of the political system are increasingly on voters' minds and "fixing the system" will be a winning issue for the party in the two years before the next elections for the White House and Congress.
"But action and anger go far beyond Congress," a thorough and clear assessment by the New York Times summarized this week. "With voters increasingly aware of the powerful impact of gerrymandering and doubtful about the fairness of elections, voting issues have become central to politics in key states including Florida, Georgia, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin."
Neal is federal government affairs manager at R Street Institute, a nonpartisan and pro-free-market public policy research organization.
The term "democratic norms" has become a misnomer over the last year. America's governing institutions are undermined by elected officials who dishonor their offices and each other. Standards of behavior and "normal" processes of governance seem to be relics of a simpler time. Our democracy has survived thus far, but the wounds are many.
Free speech and free press have been the White House's two consistent whipping posts. Comments such as "I think it is embarrassing for the country to allow protestors" and constant attacks on press credibility showcase President Trump's disdain for the pillars of democracy. Traditional interactions between the administration and the press are no longer taken for granted. Demeaning, toxic criticisms have become so common that they're being ignored. As the administration revokes critics' press passes and daily briefings are canceled, normalcy in this arena is sorely missed.
Having had remarkable success at signing people up to vote in Texas last year, an Austin group of activists is expanding its pilot program into a full-blown national effort to overcome the sometimes ignored first hurdle for people in the voting process — registration.
"There are millions of voters who are registered who don't get out to vote," said Christopher Jasinski, director of partnerships for Register2Vote. "But the unmeasured part of the pie is the actual number of unregistered voters."