Democrats hoping HR 1 gets at least one day of national headlines
The House this afternoon is debating as many as 50 more amendments to a comprehensive overhaul of campaign finance disclosure, government ethics and voting access rules. But passage, almost certainly along party lines, is being put off until Friday by Democrats seeking maximum publicity for their bill, which looks to be a dead legislative letter thereafter in the Republican Senate.
That's because Thursday's headline from the Capitol is sure to highlight something totally different – the House adopting a resolution "opposing hate" in hopes of settling a nasty feud within the Democratic Caucus stemming from comments made by Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, one of the first Muslim women in Congress, widely perceived as anti-Semitic.
But it's the elections and ethics package that has pride of place on the new majority's legislative slate as HR 1. Every one of the House's 235 Democrats is co-sponsoring the bill, the closest thing there is to a virtual guarantee of passage. A couple of Republicans, at most, are considering joining them.
There will still be some suspense on Friday, when the GOP has one opportunity to try to amend the measure on any topic it wants – hoping the language they choose prevails with the support of a score of centrist Democrats, then so poisons the underlying measure that its unified blue base of support cracks apart.
Assuming the bill passes, however, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell remains unambiguous in his position: He won't allow the bill to get any sort of airing in the Senate. "What is the problem we're trying to solve here?" he asked Wednesday at a news conference. "People are flooding to the polls."
The reasons he and almost every other elected Republican in Washington oppose the package are varied – and also worth digesting by advocates of cleaner government. Those groups will be called on to spend much of the run-up to the 2020 election explaining why their arguments ought to prevail over the criticisms that look sure to win for now.
And "even if Democrats recapture the Senate and the White House in 2020 and turn their proposals into law, a Republican-dominated Supreme Court would probably upend Democrats' plans" in at least five different areas, Syracuse University political scientist Thomas Keck wrote today on the Washington Post's Monkey Cage blog.
A central provision of HR 1 would compel super PACs and nonprofits that spend money to influence elections to disclose the identities of donors giving more than $10,000. Conservatives say the language is so broad as to violate the First Amendment by making the Federal Election Commission the arbiter of what speech is political and what isn't.
The legislation would also create a new system of matching funds for donations. Candidates who reject the sort of high-dollar donations that critics say are poisonous to the system could get $1,200 for every $200 gift. Republicans say this sort of "political welfare" is a wholly inappropriate use of federal tax dollars.
The bill seeks to make it easier to vote with a series of provisions that would nationalize the current 50-state patchwork of rules governing registration and access to the polls, including by giving back the franchise to all convicted felons. "Not only is this dangerous, it's unconstitutional," House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said in a video his office made attacking the legislation.