A HOUSE DIVIDED
House Democrats’ First Bill Is a Winner. Too Bad There’s a Loser Running the Senate.
The new Democratic House’s first effort at voting-rights reform is all well and good, but won’t go anywhere so long as Mitch runs the Senate.
The House Democrats have unveiled their H.R. 1, their symbolic first bill that they want to pass with their new majority, and lo and behold, it’s good! Here it is (pdf). It’s short, for a bill. Have a read.
It’s about reform and democracy, and all the ideas are good, even if in most instances the exact details on how they’d codify and implement these things aren’t spelled out. But the first four priorities, for example, are: expanded ballot-box access; national automatic voter registration; establishment of independent redistricting commissions; restoration of the sections of the Voting Rights Act the Supreme Court has struck down.
These are all great ideas. I’ve long believed that if the Democrats ever have unified control of government again—like on January 21, 2021, secular deities willing—the first things they need to pass are national same-day, no-ID voter laws. Just end this voter-suppression business, and end it fast and in one fell swoop and without mercy for this racist thuggery.
But wait, Tomasky, you idiot, Article 1 Section IV says that “the Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof.” Yeah, it does say that. And in the next sentence, it says: “but the Congress may at any time by Law make or alter such Regulations.” In other words, it’s up to the states, unless Congress doesn’t like what the states are doing, and there’s a lot of stuff right now that a lot of states are doing that a Democratic Congress will not like at all.
Independent redistricting commissions are another long overdue idea. We’re one of the few developed countries, writes democracy reform expert Lee Drutman, that still lets legislators draw their own (and their friends’) districts. Voters approve them virtually everywhere they get a chance to—this year alone, in Michigan, Missouri, Utah, and Colorado. It’s just Republicans that don’t like them.
Republicans don’t like democratic reforms period. We all know this, but it’s worth spending one paragraph to focus on this truth. You would think that in a democratic society, people would naturally be for things that expand democracy. But Republicans are not. When they get high-minded about it, they expound on the difference between a republic and a democracy and wank on about how this is a republic (a nation of laws) first and a democracy (a nation where the majority rules) second, and that’s how the founders set it up. And in fact they aren’t wrong about the founders, but it’s not much of a defense because the men at the Constitutional Convention had very little trust in the people.
And in any case, fealty to the founders is not the Republicans’ real reason for opposing democracy expansion. The real reason is that democracy expansion will benefit the Democrats most of the time. Of course they can’t say this, so they wrap their conclusions in hifalutin but totally dishonest arguments about voter fraud and so on.
Back to H.R. 1. From there it moved on to ethics in government. These bits are less stirring, to me. A couple are aimed directly at Donald Trump (“Strengthening Bribery Laws to Guard Against Public Officials Profiting from Public Service). Others are aimed more at Congress. They’re fine, but here’s one specific item that should be high up on the list of to-do’s.
Recently the Beast’s Lachlan Markay broke the story of Republican Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, buying between $50,000 and $100,000 in Raytheon stock just days after Inhofe met with Defense Secretary James Mattis, a meeting from which the two emerged seeking a larger Pentagon budget than before.
Before he took over Armed Services (after John McCain’s death), Inhofe chaired the committee overseeing the environment, and he owned stakes in energy companies. His spokesman told Markay that Inhofe didn’t even know about what his financial adviser did and didn’t do, but in the wake of The Daily Beast’s inquiry, Inhofe called the adviser to cancel the Raytheon transaction.
That phone call is an admission that such a stock purchase is inappropriate. How hard should it be for Congress to ban that? If there’s a proposition you’d think it might be possible for them to agree on, you’d hope it might be the idea that chairmen and women of congressional committees shouldn’t profit from positions they take. Or have they become Trumpified even on this count?
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez caught the absurdity of it in a recent tweet:
And now two Democratic senators, Ohio’s Sherrod Brown and Oregon’s Jeff Merkley, have introduced legislation to ban members of Congress and senior staff from trading individual stocks (they could still trade funds, etc.).
Of course, none of this is going anywhere as long as Mitch McConnell is running the Senate. Very unfortunate that he happens to be the man who runs the place, because he’s the single most anti-reform senator of them all. Despises it all; in fact, I’ve been told, it’s the only policy matter he really, truly cares about—his hatred of democratic reform. But House Democrats should pass their package anyway, and some version of the Brown-Merkley bill, just for the sake of showing people where they stand.
And the next time they have total control, they should move immediately to pass a package so aggressive and vast that it’ll put McConnell in the hospital. Republicans have been using their majority to rig the rules of the game in their favor. I’d prefer to be able to say that the Democrats should be better than that, but the cold reality is that trying to be “better” doesn’t work so well these days.