Battle rages over which is the ‘do-nothing’ party

As the first year of the 116th Congress nears an end, and the prospects for major legislative achievements have gone from bad to worse, the rhetorical battle over which party deserves the “do-nothing” label is heating up.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and the Democrats have passed hundreds of bills through the House, including major legislation that would establish new voting rights protections, campaign finance reforms, pay equality for women and checks on gun purchases.

A vast majority of those proposals have been ignored in the GOP-controlled Senate, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has embraced a “Grim Reaper” persona intent on blocking Pelosi’s agenda while focusing largely on appointing conservative federal judges to the bench.

And Democrats are wasting no chance to accuse the Kentucky Republican of neglecting good governance at the expense of middle-class families — a message they think will resound with voters on the campaign trail next year.

“These issues are alive and well in the public, and we have to make them too hot for him to handle,” Pelosi told reporters heading into the Thanksgiving break.

Republicans are pointing fingers the other way, saying Democrats are to blame for the gridlock by focusing squarely on liberal messaging bills that have no chance of moving through the Senate. From the Republicans’ perspective, Democrats abandoned their legislative responsibilities when they launched their impeachment investigation into President Trump. 

“They [are] too busy with the only goal of why they wanted to win the majority — to impeach the president — because they can’t do anything else,” Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), the House minority leader, said last week.

Here are the major House-passed bills at the center of the stalemate that have not received a vote in the Senate.

H.R. 1: The For the People Act

The first legislative package out of the gate after Pelosi took the gavel, the For the People Act features a host of reforms designed to empower voters, prevent foreign interference in elections and overhaul campaign finance rules, including a new legal requirement that all presidential candidates release their tax returns — an unveiled shot at Trump, who has refused to do so. 

The proposal is designed to make good on one of the central messages of the Democrats’ lean but successful campaign platform in 2018: rooting out corruption in Washington. Yet Republicans have objected to numerous provisions of the sweeping package, not least the idea that states would be forced to adopt election rules dictated by Washington.

The bill passed the House in March by a vote of 234-193 along strict partisan lines.

H.R. 5: The Equality Act

Federal law already prohibits discrimination based on race, gender and religion. The Equality Act would expand those categories to include sexual orientation and gender identity, codifying protections in employment, housing and other arenas for the LGBTQ community in states that don’t already have them on the books.

Many Republicans reject the measure on the grounds that it would encroach on constitutionally mandated religious freedoms while creating an unfair playing field in women’s sporting competitions.

The bill passed the House in May by a vote of 236-173, with eight Republicans joining all Democrats in support.

H.R. 6: The American Dream and Promise Act

Better known as the Dream Act, H.R. 6 would provide legal protections to hundreds of thousands of young, undocumented immigrants brought to the country illegally as children. The concept has been around for almost two decades but has gained new prominence under Trump, who has made combatting illegal immigration a central focus of his presidency.

Democrats argue the bill is a compassionate — and economically fruitful — way to prevent the deportation of young immigrants brought to the country involuntarily.

Republicans have broadly opposed the idea, saying it will reward those who broke the law while threatening to steal jobs from American workers.

The bill passed the House in June by a vote of 237-187, with seven Republicans crossing the aisle in support.

H.R. 7: The Paycheck Fairness Act

Women working full time in the United States make 82 cents, on average, for every dollar earned by their male counterparts. The Paycheck Fairness Act is designed to eliminate that discrepancy by amending decades-old laws aimed at ending gender wage discrimination in the workplace.

Among other provisions, the bill would offer employees new freedoms to disclose their wages and require employers to demonstrate that pay discrepancies are based on legitimate, job-related factors.

Republicans largely oppose the measure, warning it would empower frivolous lawsuits.

The House approved the bill in March by a 242-187 vote. Seven Republicans joined all voting Democrats to send it to the Senate.

H.R. 8: The Bipartisan Background Checks Act

Designed to combat America’s gun violence epidemic, H.R. 8 would expand federal background checks prior to the sale of firearms. Under current law, only licensed gun dealers are required to conduct such screenings. This bill would broaden the net to include firearms sold by unlicensed dealers, like those operating at regional gun shows and on the internet. 

Democrats contend it represents a commonsense way to keep guns from those with violent intentions. Most Republicans have opposed the expansion as an encroachment on Second Amendment rights.

The bill passed the House in February by a vote of 240-190, with two Democrats opposed and eight Republicans in support.

H.R. 9: The Climate Action Now Act

Trump has vowed to pull the United States from the international climate accord endorsed by former President Obama in Paris in 2015. The Climate Action Now Act would prevent him from doing so by withholding the federal funds needed to underwrite the withdrawal. It would also require the president to develop an annual plan for meeting the greenhouse gas reduction benchmarks established in the landmark Paris agreement.

Democrats contend the legislation would go a long way toward tackling global climate change. Republicans counter that it would hobble U.S. businesses at the expense of the nation’s economic well-being.

The measure passed the House in May, 231-190, with three Republicans crossing the aisle in support.

H.R. 397: The Rehabilitation for Multi-employer Pensions Act

Known as the Butch Lewis Act, H.R. 397 is designed to stabilize the looming crisis facing multi-employer pension plans, which cover an estimated 10 million workers — including truck drivers and coal miners — around the country. The bill would create a federal trust fund providing low-interest government-backed loans, to be repaid by the ailing plans over 30 years.

Supporters argue it’s a necessary step for protecting the millions of workers whose retirement income is threatened based on financial decisions outside of their control. Critics, including most Republicans, say it’s merely a government bailout for private-sector pension plans.

The House adopted the measure in July, 264-169, with 29 Republicans voting in support.

H.R. 582: The Raise the Wage Act

The minimum wage was last increased, in 2009, to $7.25 an hour. H.R. 582 would more than double that rate, to $15 an hour, by increments over a six-year span, while providing inflation-indexed increases thereafter. It would also eliminate the discrepancy in minimum wage requirements for tipped workers, who generally receive a much lower rate.

Democratic supporters contend the change would stimulate the economy by boosting the buying power of working class employees. Republicans maintain it would cripple businesses, which would be forced to lay off their workers.

The measure passed the House in July on a vote of 231-199, with three Republicans and six Democrats bucking their respective parties.

H.R. 1585: The Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act

First adopted in 1994, the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) dedicates federal funds to combat domestic abuse and other violent crimes against women through a host of programs, including enhanced prosecutions, community outreach services and education initiatives. It was last reauthorized on a long-term basis in 2013, and temporarily extended in January before expiring a month later. 

Democrats have sought over the years to expand VAWA protections, and their most recent version of the bill includes provisions covering the transgender community. Republicans have largely objected to that inclusion, as well as language preventing those convicted of certain misdemeanors from purchasing firearms.

The House voted 263-158 to adopt the measure in April, with 33 Republicans joining unanimous Democrats in support.

H.R. 1644: The Save the Internet Act

Under Obama, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) adopted so-called net neutrality rules, designed to provide all internet users equal access by prohibiting providers from enhancing service to those willing to pay more. Under Trump, the FCC scrapped those requirements in 2017. The Save the Internet Act would reapply the Obama-era rules and codify them into law, making it more difficult for future administrations to dismantle them.

Net neutrality has enjoyed bipartisan support in the past. Last year, the GOP-controlled Senate passed a bill to restore the Obama-era regulations. But the administration has threatened to veto the House bill, leaving little appetite among Republicans to buck their White House ally.

The measure passed the House in April in a 232-190 vote, with one Republican voting in favor.

Tags Background checks Campaign finance reform Donald Trump gun violence Impeachment Kevin McCarthy Mitch McConnell Nancy Pelosi VAWA
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