Earlier this month, House Democrats passed their first piece of flagship legislation: H.R. 1, otherwise known as the For the People Act. It is a comprehensive package aimed at achieving bipartisan goals - namely, more accountability and less money in our politics.
It requires states to offer automatic voter registration, stops voter roll purging, and makes Election Day a federal holiday - all of which will make voting easier for everyone. It funds a public financing program for candidates, aiding those who run for office but are not independently wealthy or corporately-backed. It demands transparency from super PACs on their donors and tech companies on who pays for the ads they run, which will let us see who is spending to influence our politics. And it calls for more poll workers and election security measures in 2020, which will make our voting experience smoother and more secure.
But the bill’s positive effects aren’t limited solely to election reforms. Among other things, it also increases oversight over foreign lobbying. It stops members of Congress from using taxpayer dollars to settle sexual harassment claims. It fights partisan gerrymandering. It proposes an ethics code for the U.S. Supreme Court. And yes, it requires the sitting president and vice president to disclose their tax returns - a 50-year norm in American politics only recently defied.
These are not partisan measures. They are things all Americans can and should support. Ample polling data against money in politics and corruption, both opposed mightily by Democratic and Republican voters alike, backs that up. But we don’t need survey results to tell us what we already know! Access to voting is good; foreign and corporate influence is not. Transparency and ethics are right; hiding misdeeds from the citizenry is wrong.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell appears to disagree. He has already assured that H.R. 1 won’t get a vote in the U.S. Senate because, in his own childish words, “I get to decide what we vote on.”
McConnell has chosen to smear the For the People Act as the “Democrat Politician Protection Act.” Normally in politics and communications, it’s a bad strategy to repeat your opponent’s arguments. But it’s worth taking a look at how he opposes the For the People Act, because the arguments (made in a Washington Post op-ed shortly after the bill was revealed) don’t hold up well.
McConnell attacks a proposed change to the Federal Elections Commission, but it’s actually just a move designed to break partisan gridlock. He pretends that the act is an assault on free speech, but it’s the “speech” - that is, money - being spent by shady super PACs and corporations that is in need of regulation, not the rights of American citizens. He accuses the above-mentioned match program of robbing taxpayers when its funding would actually come from a pool of fines imposed for corporate wrongdoing. And most hilariously, he wails that making Election Day a federal holiday is a giveaway to greedy federal workers (those same workers who McConnell allowed President Trump to deprive of paychecks for a historically long shutdown) as if that measure doesn’t help all Americans vote.
In short, McConnell’s arguments - like so many he has made throughout his career - are not made in good faith. They do not address how getting money out of politics and improving transparency, accountability, and access to voting are bad things, because they aren’t. Instead, the reforms of the For the People Act are common sense measures that all Americans can support.
Members of Congress, even in McConnell’s Senate where he “gets to decide” what they vote on, should hear as much from their constituents.
Graham F. West is the Communications Director for Truman Center for National Policy and Truman National Security Project, though views expressed here are his own. You can reach West at firstname.lastname@example.org.