Earlier this month, Americans went to the polls and sent a powerful message: The election not only was a resounding verdict against Republicans’ assault on Americans’ health care and wages, but also it was a vote to rescue our broken democracy.
In the face of a torrent of special-interest dark money, partisan gerrymandering and devious vote-suppression schemes, voters elected a House Democratic majority determined to bring real change to restore our democracy.
During the campaign, Democrats declared unequivocally that we would clean up corruption to make Washington work for the people. We pledged to reduce the role of money in politics, to restore ethics and integrity to government, and to strengthen voting laws.
We now have our marching orders. The new Democratic House is ready to deliver with H.R. 1: a bold reform package to restore the promise of our democracy – a government of, by and for the people.
First, let’s end the dominance of money in politics. For far too long, big-money and corporate special interests have undermined the will of the people and subverted policymaking in Washington – enabling soaring health-care costs and prescription drug prices, undermining clean air and clean water for our children, and blocking long-overdue wage increases for hard-working Americans.
So let’s rein in the unaccountable “dark money” unleashed by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision by requiring all political organizations to disclose their donors, and by shutting down the shell game of big-money donations to super PACs. We must also empower hard-working Americans in our democracy by building a 21st-century campaign-finance system – combining small-donor incentives and matching support – to increase and multiply the power of small donors. Wealthy special interests shouldn’t be able to buy more influence than the workers, consumers and families who should be our priority in Washington.
Next, let’s make sure that when public servants get to Washington, they serve the public. Restoring the public’s trust means closing the revolving door between government and private industries, and imposing strong new ethics laws to stop officials from using their public office for personal gain. To do so, we will expand conflict-of-interest laws, ban members of Congress from serving on for-profit boards, revamp the oversight authority of the Office of Government Ethics, and prohibit public servants from receiving bonus payments from their former employers to enter government. We’ll curb the influence of high-powered Washington insiders by closing lobbyist registration loopholes that allow big-money power brokers and foreign actors to operate in the shadows. That way, well-connected special interests won’t be able to steer the policy agenda away from the priorities of the American public.
Finally, let’s make it easier, not harder, to vote. Since the Supreme Court took the teeth out of the Voting Rights Act, Republican political operatives have increasingly turned to blatant schemes to make it more difficult for the Americans left behind to participate in elections – a narrow agenda all too often targeted at communities of color.
We must renew the Voting Rights Act to protect every citizen’s access to the ballot box and restore the vital safeguard of pre-clearance requirements for areas with a history of voter suppression. We will promote national automatic voter registration, bolster our critical election infrastructure against foreign attackers, and put an end to partisan gerrymandering once and for all by establishing federal guidelines to outlaw the practice. No American should face hours-long lines, broken voting machines or rules rigged to keep their vote from being counted in our elections.
These are the reforms that will ultimately change the balance of power in Washington. When we get dark money out of politics, clean up corruption and ensure fair elections, we will dismantle the ability of special interests to stack the deck of our democracy and our economy against hard-working Americans.
And with a system that works for the people, we will deliver policy outcomes that make life better for all Americans: We will lower health-care costs and out-of-control prices for prescription drugs. We will rebuild the United States’ infrastructure, raise the minimum wage and put leverage back in the hands of workers and consumers. We will finally advance common-sense, bipartisan solutions to prevent gun violence. We will confront discrimination with the Equality Act, pass the Dream Act to protect the patriotic young undocumented immigrants who came here as children, and take the first step toward comprehensive immigration reform.
We have a responsibility to honor the vision of our founders, the sacrifices made to expand the right to vote and our duty to the American people. With bold action to fix what is broken in our democracy, we can make progress for working families and renew Americans’ trust in Congress to tackle the issues that matter most.
Nancy Pelosi represents California’s 12th Congressional District and is Democratic leader in the House of Representatives. John Sarbanes, a Democrat, represents Maryland’s 3rd Congressional District.
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