© Anna Moneymaker
Before tackling infrastructure, health care and the rest of an ambitious agenda should they control the House next year, Democrats first want to overhaul the way the government itself operates.
That one-two strategy was laid out Wednesday by Rep. Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerGOP blocks debt limit hike, government funding Democrats press Schumer on removing Confederate statues from Capitol House Democrats set 'goal' to vote on infrastructure, social spending package next week MORE (D-Md.), the minority whip, who thinks government reforms will boost the public’s trust in Congress, thereby greasing the skids for the issue-based reforms Democrats are promising if they flip the chamber in November.
“Our people believe their government is rigged against them,” Hoyer said during a speech, hosted by the End Citizens United Action Fund, at Union Station in Washington.
“This belief undermines trust in government and impedes our ability to govern.”
The promise to drain the swamp of corruption and conflicts of interest is a central component of the Democrats’ midterm messaging strategy, representing one of just three major promises outlined in their “For the People” campaign.
The other two are reducing health care costs and increasing middle-class wages.
For months, Hoyer has suggested Democrats, if they win the House, would move first on efforts to bolster infrastructure projects and workforce training programs.
On Wednesday, he said he’s more recently come to believe that those bills — and countless others — would be easier accomplished if government reform comes first.
“It’s the caffeine that … energizes those issues,” he said. “People want to know from the very beginning that you’re going to operate honestly for them. So whatever you propose — whether it’s on health care, whether it’s on jobs, or the environment, or whatever — your interest is them."
“That’s why it’s important to move that first.”
Hoyer is focusing broadly on three areas: limiting the influence of money in politics, making it easier to vote and adopting tougher ethics rules for Washington policymakers. If the House flips, he wants to lump the three together and adopt the package in the earliest days of the next Congress.
“People need to see that we’re serious,” he said.
The fights are hardly new.
Since 2010, when the Supreme Court handed down its Citizens United decision allowing unrestricted and anonymous campaign spending by corporations and unions, Democrats have fought unsuccessfully to reverse it.
Now, as then, their proposed reform vehicle is the Disclose Act, which doesn’t cap corporate campaign spending, but requires donors to reveal themselves — a notion that’s anathema to top Republicans like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellFord to bolster electric vehicle production in multi-billion dollar push On The Money — GOP blocks spending bill to kick off chaotic week in congress Overnight Health Care — Presented by Alrtia — Booster shots get bipartisan rollout MORE (R-Ky.).
The point, Hoyer said, “is not to remove money [from elections], but have the source of the money be the general interest, not the special interests.”
Hoyer is also proposing a new requirement that all large contributions to super PACs be disclosed within 48 hours.
Rep. John SarbanesJohn Peter Spyros SarbanesDemocrats push to shield election workers from violent threats Rep. Bush drives calls for White House action on eviction moratorium lapse Chesapeake Bay's health increases slightly to a C MORE (D-Md.), a leader in the Democrats’ effort to overhaul the campaign finance system, acknowledged the barriers to moving such reforms, particularly given McConnell’s opposition.
But if November brings a blue wave — and campaign finance reform is a significant factor — Republican opponents will be forced to reconsider, Sarbanes predicted.
“They’re going to understand that for their own political fortunes, they need to start leaning more in this direction,” he said. “The election could actually change the dynamic of what can be passed more broadly.”
Tiffany Muller, the president of End Citizens United, said polls conducted by her group reveal that campaign finance reform is exceedingly popular across the political spectrum — a dynamic highlighted during the 2016 presidential campaign, when both Donald TrumpDonald TrumpJan. 6 committee chair says panel will issue a 'good number' of additional subpoenas Overnight Defense & National Security — Presented by AM General — Pentagon officials prepare for grilling Biden nominates head of Africa CDC to lead global AIDS response MORE and Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersDo progressives prefer Trump to compromise? Texas House Republican tests positive for coronavirus in latest breakthrough case In defense of share buybacks MORE (I-Vt.) were hailed for embracing the issue.
She said Republicans in Congress haven’t embraced the changes simply because they “haven’t felt the repercussions of being against disclosure and transparency.”
“They’re on the wrong side of where voters are,” she said. “We just have to show that to them.”
Hoyer’s push for new voting rights protections is also a years-old effort stemming from yet another Supreme Court decision: a 2013 case scrapping a requirement that certain states with documented records of racial discrimination get Washington's approval before changing their voting rules.
In response, Democrats and a handful of Republicans have urged a vote to update the 1965 Voting Rights Act (VRA) to restore those voter protections. GOP leaders in both chambers have refused to consider the bill.
“We cannot go back to Jim Crow voting,” Hoyer said Wednesday.
The push for tougher ethics rules on Capitol Hill comes following the recent indictment of two House Republicans — Reps. Chris CollinsChristopher (Chris) Carl CollinsBiden taps Damian Williams as US attorney for Manhattan New York lt. gov. says she is 'prepared to lead' following Cuomo resignation Outrage grows as Justice seeks to contain subpoena fallout MORE (R-N.Y.) for insider trading; and Duncan HunterDuncan HunterTrump denies Gaetz asked him for blanket pardon Gaetz, on the ropes, finds few friends in GOP Trust, transparency, and tithing is not enough to sustain democracy MORE (Calif.) for campaign finance violations.
As one reform, Hoyer singled out bipartisan legislation barring current House members from corporate boards — a response to the charges facing Collins, who was on the board of an Australian pharmaceutical company at the time of the alleged crimes.
Hoyer is also pressing for more obscure changes, like boosting the power of the Office of Congressional Ethics and requiring lawmakers to post their financial disclosures on their official websites.
Muller, of End Citizens United, said the many scandals surrounding the Trump administration — combined with charges facing Collins and Hunter — only underpin the argument for an overhaul.
“The fact that these corruptions and scandals are happening and that they’re tied to money in many cases, it’s just reinforcing how broken the system is, which is what voters already believe,” Muller said.
“The only place that this is partisan is in the halls of Congress.”