U.S. Capitol/Congress
Credit: Roman Boed/Flickr

Obviously, the House Democrats can pass anything they want in the next Congress but unless it is linked to must-pass legislation, they don’t have a prayer of compelling Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to consider legislation he doesn’t like. Still, the Democrats made a lot of promises on the campaign trail and they have to make a sincere effort to show that they intend to follow up. It has now been announced that the House of Representatives, under New Democratic leadership, will bring up a very large bill as its first order of business in January.

House Democrats unveiled details of their first bill in the new Congress on Friday — a sweeping anti-corruption bill aimed at stamping out the influence of money in politics and expanding voting rights.

This is House Resolution 1 — the first thing House Democrats will tackle after the speaker’s vote in early January. To be clear, this legislation has little-to-no chance of passing the Republican-controlled Senate or being signed by President Donald Trump.

But by making anti-corruption their No. 1 priority, House Democrats are throwing down the gauntlet for Republicans.

It’s actually far more than a mere anti-corruption bill, as it will include significant electoral reforms, including a “new national automatic voter registration that asks voters to opt out, rather than opt in…”

Here are some of the things the surviving House Republicans will have to oppose if they don’t want to support House Resolution 1.

  • A requirement that members of Congress stop using taxpayer money to settle sexual harassment cases or buy first-class plane tickets.
  • A new ethical code for the US Supreme Court.
  • Restoration of the gutted Voting Rights Act of 1965.
  • Public financing of campaigns, including a voluntary 6-1 match for candidates for president and Congress.
  • A requirement that Super PACs and “dark money” political organizations make the identity of their donors public.
  • A requirement that social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter disclose the source of money for political ads they run and an accounting of how much money was spent.
  • Money for improved elections security, including a requirement that the Director of National Intelligence provide regular updates on foreign threats.
  • A requirement that President Trump release his tax returns.

No member of the House will want to be on the record as having opposed all of the items on that list since most of them poll very well. Some Republicans will probably vote for the bill for that reason, but I doubt there will be many defectors because most of the truly vulnerable Republicans have already been defeated.

The hope is that anyone who won’t support these measures is going to open themselves up to potent lines of attack, and some people who would not otherwise be vulnerable will begin to find themselves in jeopardy if they continue to defy popular common-sense legislation.

According to Rep. John Sarbanes of Maryland, who will be spearheading this bill, the Democrats won’t stop with just passing this big comprehensive legislation.

HR 1 will be a large package, but Sarbanes said in addition to passing it as the first bill, members will likely break out pieces of it into smaller bills as well that individually could get bipartisan support from Republicans in the Senate — things including the Honest Ads Act and election security.

“The combination of having some [bills] like that plus having a powerful push out of the gate the public responds to in a positive way creates political pressure for Republicans to get on board,” Sarbanes told Vox. “They are going to discover this sort of thing is popular back in their district.”

It’s possible that at least some of these measures could stand a chance of getting a Senate hearing if taken up individually, but it would require a big public outcry. At this time next year, when Congress is trying to finish up all the spending bills to keep the government operating, we might see some of this get attached to the must-pass legislation.

If not, then the Democrats will have at least brought forward their ideas and given the electorate a better understanding of the differences between the two parties and what to expect if they get complete control.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly. See all his writing at ProgressPond.com