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H.R. 1 – A Bill to Rescue Democracy?

January 22, 2019 by Scot Wilson


The first bill introduced in the new Democrat-controlled House of Representatives is H.R. 1, informally known as the For the People Act. (The bill’s full title is H.R. 1: To expand Americans’ access to the ballot box, reduce the influence of big money in politics, and strengthen ethics rules for public servants, and for other purposes.)

Democrats in Congress say the bill is intended to limit corruption, expand access to the ballot, and make the government more responsive to the people. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has called the bill a “power grab” and an attempt to “grow the federal government’s power over Americans’ political speech and elections.”

 

What Does the For the People Act Do?

From Vox:

“The bill covers three main planks: campaign finance reform, strengthening the government’s ethics laws, and expanding voting rights. Here’s the important part of each section.”

Campaign Finance

  • “Public financing of campaigns, powered by small donations. Under [Representative John Sarbanes’, D-Md.,] vision, the federal government would provide a voluntary 6-1 match for candidates for president and Congress, which means for every dollar a candidate raises from small donations, the federal government would match it six times over.
  • Support for a constitutional amendment to end Citizens United.
  • Passing the DISCLOSE Act, pushed by Rep. David Cicilline and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, both Democrats from Rhode Island. This would require Super PACs and “dark money” political organizations to make their donors public.
  • Passing the Honest Ads Act, championed by Sens. Amy Klobuchar (Minn.) and Mark Warner (Va.) and introduced by Rep. Derek Kilmer (D-Wash.) in the House, which would require Facebook and Twitter to disclose the source of money for political ads on their platforms and share how much money was spent.
  • Disclosing any political spending by government contractors and slowing the flow of foreign money into the elections by targeting shell companies.
  • Restructuring the Federal Election Commission to have five commissioners instead of the current four.”

Ethics

  • “Requiring the president and vice president to disclose 10 years of his or her tax returns. Candidates for president and vice president must also do the same.
  • Stopping members of Congress from using taxpayer money to settle sexual harassment or discrimination cases.
  • Giving the Office of Government Ethics the power to do more oversight and enforcement and put in stricter lobbying registration requirements. These include more oversight into foreign agents by the Foreign Agents Registration Act.
  • Creating a new ethical code for the U.S. Supreme Court, ensuring all branches of government are impacted by the new law.”

Voting Rights

  • “Creating new national automatic voter registration that asks voters to opt out, rather than opt in, ensuring more people will be signed up to vote. Early voting, same-day voter registration, and online voter registration would also be promoted.
  • Making Election Day a holiday for federal employees and encouraging private sector businesses to do the same, requiring poll workers to provide a week’s notice if poll sites are changed, and making colleges and universities a voter registration agency (in addition to the DMV, etc.), among other updates.
  • Ending partisan gerrymandering in federal elections and prohibiting voter roll purging. The bill would stop the use of non-forwardable mail being used as a way to remove voters from rolls.
  • Beefing up elections security, including requiring the director of national intelligence to do regular checks on foreign threats.
  • Recruiting and training more poll workers ahead of the 2020 election to cut down on long lines at the polls.”

Senate Majority Leader McConnell has called the bill “a naked attempt to change the rules of American politics to benefit one party.” He has already said that the bill will not come up for a vote in the Senate, even if it passes in the House (which it probably will). Still, Democrats have said that they will continue to push these ideas by breaking the bill into smaller pieces to pass a few ideas at a time.

 

Questions to Discuss

  1. What have you heard about issues such as gerrymandering, voter suppression, voter turnout, and government ethics in recent months and years?
  2. Which ideas among those included in the bill do you think are likely to be controversial? Why?
  3. Are there any ideas that you support? Any that you oppose? What is your reasoning?
  4. Why do you think this is a major area of focus for Democrats?

 

Optional Extension Activities

  1. Conduct a short debate after having students read the three opinion articles below.
  2. Place students in groups of 2-3 and assign each group one of the reforms listed above. Have them research the reform and write a one-page memo that gives background about the issue and a short statement in support of and in opposition to the reform. Students can use the memos to teach each other about their reforms; the memos can also be compiled into a packet and circulated online to inform other students and community members about the reforms in the bill.

 

Additional Resources

 

Sources:
Featured Image: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images (Representative John Sarbanes, D-Md., the bill’s author, addresses the media.)

 

 

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