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House to Begin Work on HR 1, but Timetable Unknown

The Democrats' sweeping overhaul of elections and ethics law will begin moving through the House by the end of the month, Speaker Nancy Pelosi has promised.

But the committee sequencing, floor timetable and debate terms for the bill all remain closely held if not undetermined. The vagueness is an indication of how the continued threat of a partial government shutdown is complicating the new House majority's desire to showcase the legislation as the top priority for its first months back in power.

"During this Black History Month, I am pleased we will be advancing H.R. 1," Pelosi said in a letter to her rank and file Monday night – noting that a central section of the measure, championed by civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis of Georgia, is designed to bolster voting rights by setting federal standards for voter registration procedures, improving access to the polls and restoring the franchise nationwide for convicted felons.

But Pelosi offered no additional details. And, to date, there has been one hearing on the bill, in the Judiciary Committee, with another one scheduled later this week in the Oversight and Reform Committee.

Eight other panels claim some jurisdiction over aspects of the measure, which also would revamp executive branch ethics rules, boost campaign finance disclosures, make Election Day a federal holiday and turn all congressional redistricting over to non-partisan players. Some of them will want to have hearings, as well, and then in theory each would have the authority to debate and amend parts of the package in a committee drafting session, or markup.

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If those customary procedures are applied – and the new Democratic leadership has promised a restoration of such "regular order" – it's tough to imagine the measure being readied for a debate by the full House before March. It is virtually guaranteed to pass intact at that point (227 Democrats are cosponsors) before facing a dead-on-arrival promise in the Republican Senate.

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