House Democrats on Friday introduced a sweeping government reform package designed to weed Washington of corruption and bolster voting rights across the country — two of the party’s principal campaign promises — as its top legislative priority.
Central to the package is a provision requiring the president and vice president to disclose their finances and tax forms going back 10 years— a direct shot at President TrumpDonald TrumpTrump defends indicted GOP congressman House to vote Thursday on holding Bannon in contempt Youngkin calls for investigation into Loudoun County School Board amid sexual assault allegations MORE, who has defied historic precedent by refusing to release his tax returns.
“Over the last two years, President Trump set the tone from the top in his administration that behaving ethically and complying with the law is optional,” said Rep. Elijah CummingsElijah Eugene CummingsFormer GOP congressional candidate Kimberly Klacik suing Candace Owens for defamation Former Cummings staffer unveils congressional bid McCarthy, GOP face a delicate dance on Jan. 6 committee MORE (D-Md.), chairman of the Oversight and Reform Committee.
“This is our watch, and the American people are looking for us to take action.”
The reforms have little chance of moving through the Senate, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellFixing Congress requires fixing how it legislates McConnell: GOP should focus on future, not 'rehash' 2020 Hoyer: Democrats 'committed' to Oct. 31 timeline for Biden's agenda MORE (R-Ky.) stands in staunch opposition to the proposals.
But the legislation — and the Democrats’ decision to launch it as their first act of business — signals that Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiWhite House: Window for finalizing sweeping budget package 'closing' Emanuel to take hot seat in Senate confirmation hearing Fixing Congress requires fixing how it legislates MORE (D-Calif.) intends to use her gavel to move quickly on the campaign vows that won Democrats the House majority, while putting Senate GOP leaders in the tough spot of explaining their inaction on “drain-the-swamp” reforms that enjoy overwhelming public support.
“We are introducing … legislation to clean up corruption and restore integrity to government,” Pelosi, flanked by dozens of Democratic lawmakers, said during a packed press briefing in the Capitol.
“The American people will know that this is an option that the House has given the Senate of the United States and the president of the United States to take action in support of the American people.”
The package features dozens of proposals, grouped broadly into three categories: limiting the influence of money in politics, making it easier to vote, and adopting tougher ethics rules for Washington policymakers.
Democratic leaders are moving the package quickly under the premise that reforming how the government operates will boost the public’s trust in Congress, thereby greasing the skids for the issue-based reforms Democrats are promising later in the year, including big-ticket items addressing infrastructure, immigration and health care concerns.
“We heard loud and clear from the American people that they feel left out and locked out too often from their own democracy,” said 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 (Md.), who led the Democrats in cobbling together the reform package.
“In return for giving us the gavel, we’re going to do everything we can, every single day, to give you your democracy back.”
On the campaign finance side, the legislation would not cap political spending, but would require political organizations to reveal their large donors. The provision is a response to a 2010 Supreme Court decision allowing unrestricted and anonymous campaign spending by corporations and unions.
The package has provisions to encourage more people to vote by eliminating some of the tough voting requirements adopted by certain states since a 2013 Supreme Court decision gutted central protections of the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965.
It would establish an automatic system of voter registration across the country, for instance, while empowering felons with voting rights nationwide.
“The vote is the most powerful nonviolent instrument of transformation we have in our democracy,” said Rep. John LewisJohn LewisAlyssa Milano arrested at White House voting rights protest Kinzinger defends not supporting voting rights act: 'Democrats have to quit playing politics' What's at stake if Trump wins in 2024? Single-party authoritarian rule MORE (D-Ga.), a hero of the civil rights movement. “It must be strengthened and preserved.
“There are forces trying to make it harder and more difficult for people to participate,” Lewis added. “And we must drown out these forces.”
The legislation also takes steps to rein in partisan gerrymandering — the state-based process of drawing district lines to the benefit of one party or the other. The Democrats’ reform package would require states to create independent commissions charged with establishing district lines, thereby taking the task from the hands of partisan lawmakers.
“Because of these partisan districts, politicians are actually choosing their voters instead of voters choosing their politicians,” said Rep. Zoe LofgrenZoe Ellen LofgrenThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - After high drama, Senate lifts debt limit Biden to raise refugee cap to 125,000 in October Republicans keep distance from 'Justice for J6' rally MORE (D-Calif.).
“That has to stop.”
The proposals will next move through the various committees of jurisdiction. Democratic leaders then plan to bring the entire package to the floor for a single vote.