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Democrats seek exposure (and face aggressive GOP) on HR 1

Majority Democrats are going to slow-walk debate on their comprehensive election and ethics overhaul bill for the better part of three days this week. They hope to highlight their "good government" bona fides for as long as possible before pushing the bill through the House and on to certain death in the Republican Senate.

The only real suspense is whether GOP House members, who also appear dead set against the package, will have any success at weakening some provisions or adding language the Democratic leadership would view as poison pills.

The initial Republican strategy on that front will become clear Tuesday night, when the Rules Committee, which determines the ground rules for all of the House's legislative debates, determines whether to allow amendments.

The sprawling bill carries the label HR 1 to reflect the Democrats' desire to tout it as a top priority during their return to power, and so party leaders are very likely to do whatever they can to keep it unsullied with GOP alterations during a debate that's likely to stretch from Wednesday into Friday.

To that end, they seem willing to brush past complaints that such thwarting of an open amendment process amounts to trampling on one good-government principle even as they profess their overriding interest in promoting a more functional democracy.

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Still, House rules afford Republicans one opportunity to alter the legislation right before the final vote, and they can wait to unveil their proposal until the literal last minute – so that the roll call occurs without time for any intervening pressure campaigns by lobbyists or party leaders.

This maneuver, known as the motion to recommit, has become House Republicans' new parliamentary weapon of choice this winter and they have succeeded twice so far in amending legislation, including a gun control measure last week. When the strategy works, it means the GOP has come up with a proposal that wins over a bloc of at least 20 moderate or politically vulnerable Democrats, those most likely to break from the party line in order to display a moderate streak to constituents who in many cases backed President Trump in 2016.

The catchall nature of the bill makes a brief synopsis difficult. Among other provisions, it would:

  • Expand the rules for disclosing campaign contributions to include so-called dark money groups.
  • Give congressional candidates federal matching funds for donations raised in small denominations.
  • Mandate easier voter registration systems nationwide.
  • Create a national requirement to permit early voting.
  • Set Election Day as a federal holiday.
  • Require states to give House redistricting duties to independent commissions in order to end partisan gerrymandering.
  • Bar members of Congress from serving on for-profit boards.
  • Prevent members from using taxpayer money to settle any sort of employment discrimination claim.
  • Tighten ethics rules to slow the revolving door between executive branch service and K Street advocacy.
  • Compel presidential nominees to turn over a decade's worth of income tax returns.

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