The underlying intent of the For the People Act, also known as H.R. 1, which was introduced by Maryland Democratic Congressman John Sarbanes, is unquestionably good. Broadly speaking, the bill proposes to expand voting rights, change campaign finance laws to reduce the influence of big money and establish new ethics rules for federal officeholders. But while the bill passed the House, all signs point to failure in the Senate. Republicans oppose the bill, and call it a power grab. They can block the bill from proceeding to a vote with a filibuster.
What is the problem? And why is it that Democrats and Republicans can’t find common ground on basic voting rights concerns and fundamental campaign finance and ethics reform? The answer seems to be that no one is really trying. Instead, Democrats insist on piling on provisions that go well beyond the law’s purported basic purposes, and Republicans are stuck in voting rights denial and a fear of Democrat actions designed to block any possible Republican return to power. So we have another stalemate. And worthwhile legislative objectives are being ignored.
There is lots of blame to go around. Democrats are guilty of overreach. And Republicans are guilty of political doublespeak, obfuscation and paranoia.
Democrats are trying to do too much with the bill, and have added provisions that appear designed to placate their progressive wing. Thus, the inclusion of “anti-corruption measures” like the mandatory release of presidential tax returns, regulation of inaugural committees and other provisions not directly related to voting rights serves as both a distraction and an unnecessary invitation to conflict. Similarly, the bill’s call for D.C. statehood — an issue worthy of serious consideration and support — has no place in more focused voting rights legislation.
Republicans haven’t engaged on these issues. Instead, they start from the demonstrably false premise that Democrats rigged the 2020 presidential election, and argue that the whole purpose of the legislation is to maintain Democrat power rather than enable more people to vote. Thus, Republican leaders like Kevin McCarthy (R- Calif.) accuse Democrats of seeking “to put a thumb on the scale in every election in America, so that Democrats can turn a temporary majority into permanent control.”
There has to be some compromise here that will enable voters to make choices in the marketplace of ideas without prejudicial restraints or conditions. Such a result would serve the interests of Republicans and Democrats.
The fundamental provisions of H.R. 1 are worthy of support. The add-ons to the bill may be worth considering, but are more appropriate for separate legislation and debate.
We urge congressional leadership to take a closer look at the issues and consider a narrower bill that would provide more confidence in the voting process. That could help lead to the elusive “unity” we all say we want to achieve.