Hoyer lays out government reform blueprint

Hoyer lays out government reform blueprint
© 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 HoyerBudowsky: Democracy won, Trump lost, President Biden inaugurated Congressional leaders present Biden, Harris with flags flown during inauguration LIVE INAUGURATION COVERAGE: Biden signs executive orders; press secretary holds first briefing 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 McConnellBiden leans on Obama-era appointees on climate Kentucky Republican committee rejects resolution urging McConnell to condemn Trump impeachment Calls grow for 9/11-style panel to probe Capitol attack 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 SarbanesEfforts to secure elections likely to gain ground in Democrat-controlled Congress Former Md. senator Paul Sarbanes dies at 87 Democrats were united on top issues this Congress — but will it hold? 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.”
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.
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.”