House Passes H.R. 1 by 234-193 (March 8)

Update 336: House Passes H.R. 1 by 234-193
No Ds Dissent; Long March Ahead in Senate

Earlier today, the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 1, a comprehensive political reform measure that would greatly expand ballot access, help level the campaign finance playing field, and codify ethics rules across all branches of government.  The vote was party line.

The bill now begins a march that may last as long as McConnell’s majority in the Senate, two years or more, en route to statute.  Senate Democrats will take up a companion bill to H.R. 1 being prepared for introduction by chief co-sponsors Sens. Udall and Merkley later this month.  

H.R 1’s themes — making it easier for Americans to vote, making it harder to buy elections, and raising the ethical standards in government — will likely be sounded by Senate Democrats in whatever forum is available, from floor speeches to hearings and amendments, as well as in presidential debates and discussions throughout the cycle.

Good weekends all…

Best,

Dana

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The first legislative order of business for the new House Democratic majority is now complete, with final passage of H.R. 1 today. While the bill has little chance of coming to a vote in the Senate, the debate there will begin in earnest in short order with the introduction of the companion bill.

H.R. 1 contains the most significant reforms to democracy and governance since the aftermath of Watergate. After referral and consideration by five committees, fifteen hours of witness testimony, two markups, and three days of floor debate, the bill passed by a party-line vote this morning. Below is an outline of the most recent changes that occurred this week during the House Rules Committee markup and floor debate.

Voting Rights (Titles I-III)

The voting rights section of H.R. 1 is by far the largest, with sweeping reforms to expand voter access and strengthen election security and integrity. This section saw a number of technical corrections during the markup and amendment process. A few of the significant additions include:

  • Voter Access:  Rep. Moore offered an amendment that establishes pilot programs to allow individuals with disabilities to register to vote privately and independently at their residences. The Manager’s Amendment out of the Rules Committee also establishes a “Congressional Task Force on Voting Rights of United States Citizen Residents of Territories of the United States” to evaluate consequences of political disenfranchisement to citizens in U.S. territories.
  • Election Administration:  A few noteworthy changes to election administration were made, requiring state and local governments to prepay postage on absentee ballots and striking the proposed Election Day Holiday. The latter amendment came after persistent objection by Republicans over costs.
  • Election Security and Infrastructure: Some amendments adopted seek to improve election security and infrastructure, requiring that all paper ballots used for federal elections be printed in the U.S., on U.S.-manufactured paper, and that any voting machine used for federal elections, by 2022, is manufactured in the U.S.  An amendment by Rep. Scanlon establishes a fourth committee on the Election Assistance Commission comprised of election security experts to review grant requests for election infrastructure.

Republicans decried the voting rights reforms for “federalizing” federal elections, claiming that states know best how to administer their elections. Voter purging, stringent ID laws, and four-hour wait times during the 2018 midterms refute that assertion. The “election federalization” objection was used leading up to other landmark voter rights legislation, such as the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Help America Vote Act of 2002. Congress has legislative authority per Art. 1, Sect. 4 to make or alter election law and enforcement authority under the Fifteenth Amendment to prevent discrimination.   

Campaign Finance Reform (Titles IV-VI)

The campaign finance reform section of the bill focuses on disclosure of special interest “dark” money and creates a brand new small-dollar financing program for House congressional elections.

  • PAYGO: The original H.R. 1 did not have a dedicated fund to finance the small-donor match provision and pilot voucher program under Title V. House Administration Chair Lofgren announced a key change: a Freedom From Influence Fund would be the sole source for the pilot voucher program and small donor match fund. The source of the fund is a 2.75 percent levy on federal fines, penalties, and settlements for tax crimes and corporate malfeasance.
  • Scalability: Rep. Scanlon offered an amendment that would require the Federal Election Commission to assess whether the small-donor match cap and the six-to-one ratio in H.R. 1 is appropriately scaled for both House and Senate elections. This amendment will help the program meet its goal of bringing more voters and candidates into the political process, while ensuring the viability of the match cap and ratio in both chambers.
  • Raskin Amendment on Corporate Political Spending:  An amendment offered by Rep. Raskin would prevent corporate expenditures for campaign purposes without the company first “determining the political will of its shareholders.” The amendment narrowly passed in a recorded 219-215 vote, with 17 Democrats voting no. The amendment has some legislative history in the Shareholder Protection Act of 2017 (H.R. 376), but requiring corporations to get shareholder approval for political expenditures may concern free speech advocates. Nevertheless, Senate Democrats will persist in trying to broaden the debate on the influence of big money in politics.

The addition of the Freedom from Influence Fund in the House Rules removes the Republican objection that the public financing provision in H.R. 1 was a taxpayer subsidy for federal campaigns.The fund also comes with the caveat that no appropriated funds can be put into the fund to cover any shortfall that may occur if the de minimis 2.75 percent assessment on tax crimes and corporate malfeasance cannot cover the cost of the donor match fund.

Ethics Rules (Titles VII-X)

The ethics reform section in H.R. 1 codifies and expands ethical norms and standards for the executive, legislative, and judicial branch, and seeks to define limits for Presidential and executive branch power. The following amendments were adopted during markup:

  • Limiting taxpayer-funded travel: Amendments by Reps. Axne, Lieu, and O’Halleran, outline limitations on using taxpayer funds for executive and legislative branch travel, following travel bill scandals involving Trump appointees.
  • Making lobbying disclosure easier:  Rep. Pocan’s amendment requires the creation of a single lobbying information disclosure portal that combines information currently held and made available to the public by the House, Senate, and DOJ.
  • Expanding conflict of interest rules:  Rep. Philips proposed a prohibition on “lobbying activity” for former government officials leaving public service during the ‘cooling off’ period. Reps. Jayapal and Omar introduced an amendment to prohibit compensation for lobbying contacts on behalf of foreign countries. Rep. O’Halleran offered an amendment to extend the lobbying ban for Members from two to five years.

The proposed amendments satisfied many members of Congress, particularly in the progressive caucus, who believed the ethics section did not go far enough in codifying and enforcing conflict of interest and anti-revolving door standards.

The Long March in the Senate

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has already famously stated that he will not take up a Senate equivalent to H.R. 1, as he doesn’t “see anything in here salvageable,” though some bipartisan provisions of the bill may be passable as standalone bills. Nevertheless, Senate Democrats are certain to persist with floor speeches, legislation, and other platforms. Although many Senators have worked on aspects of H.R. 1, Democrats will have to clear the 60-vote hurdle to get to a Senate vote on final passage, even if they secure a majority in 2020 or 2022.

The Senate companion to H.R. 1 will likely be introduced next week by original cosponsors Sens. Udall and Merkley. Many of the House bills from which H.R. 1 provisions were derived have Senate companions and enjoy broad support in the Democratic caucus. The companion bill will have to enact its own provision for small-dollar matching for Senate elections.   

De novo provisions will necessarily get drafted for the Senate companion bill. Last Congress, Sen. Udall’s We the People Democracy Reform Act of 2017, S. 1880, sought to address the higher cost of Senate campaigns compared to House races. On PAYGO, Sens. Udall and Merkley may replicate the 2.75 percent assessment on tax crimes and corporate malfeasance in provided in a previous Senate bill, if the revenue source is able to fund the program sustainably.  

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