Politics

Government Overhaul Like ‘Caffeine’ for Economic Agenda, Dems Say

Minority whip to deliver speech Wednesday outlining campaign finance, voting, ethics, rules overhauls

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., will deliver a speech Wednesday calling for Democrats to quickly pass a government overhaul package in January if they are in the majority. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

If Democrats win the House majority, Steny Hoyer believes their economic agenda will do better if they first pass a government overhaul package to help restore Americans’ continuously eroding trust in government.

“To regain that trust, our response must be vigorous and innovative,” the minority whip plans to say in a speech Wednesday morning, according to excerpts shared with Roll Call.

“Campaign finance reform, voting reform, and ethics reform, alongside new rules to improve how Congress works — all of these items should be packaged into one reform bill and addressed in the opening days of the next Congress, should Democrats be entrusted with the House majority,” the Maryland Democrat plans to say during remarks at an event hosted by End Citizens United Action Fund.

Hoyer expects to highlight a variety of Democratic bills that could be part of that legislative package. Those include the Government by the People Act, a campaign finance overhaul measure designed to incentivize small donations; the DISCLOSE Act, a bill to require public disclosure of super PAC donors; the Voting Rights Advancement Act, a measure expanding the federal government’s ability to monitor state election procedures to prevent discrimination; and the Election Security Act, a bill establishing grants for states to secure their voting systems.

“Putting them in a single piece of legislation and moving them very early will … give the citizens a sense that we have a Congress very concerned about making sure we are doing the public’s business honestly and transparently,” Hoyer said in an interview previewing his remarks.

He will also call for a national redistricting law that would set up a uniform nonpartisan process, stronger ethics standards for members of Congress and a restoration of congressional earmarks with transparency provisions. The speech is set to highlight Democrats’ plans to conduct more congressional oversight and create a more open and bipartisan legislative process

Watch: Trump’s 3 Legislative Priorities Before the Midterm Vote

Wednesday’s speech dovetails with one Hoyer delivered in 2016 at the Georgetown University Law Center, where he also called for overhauls of the campaign finance system and redistricting process, enhancements in voting rights laws and improvements in government technology.

As in 2016, Hoyer will speak about action Democrats would take if put in control of the House. That cycle the party flipped only six Republican-held seats, far fewer than anticipated. This year Democrats are hoping the political climate will help them flip at least the 23 seats needed to win the majority.

Democrats believe economic messaging is the key to winning the majority, and Hoyer said that will continue to be their focus. But he sees the government overhauls he plans to promote in his speech as a complementary effort that will help voters believe Democrats truly want to serve them better.

Fellow Maryland Democrat John Sarbanes, who chairs House Democrats’ Democracy Reform Task Force, will also speak at the event and introduce Hoyer. 

Sarbanes said his task force set out with two goals heading into the 2018 cycle: to call out the lack of transparency and accountability of President Donald Trump, his administration and his GOP allies in Congress, and “to give Americans a reason for hope” by showing Democrats have a plan to clean up government. 

“If you don’t fix that as kind of a foundational effort and initiative, they’re going to be very skeptical that you can do any of the other stuff,” he said. 

The Democracy Reform Task Force has been focused on developing fixes that fall into three buckets: voting rights and voter empowerment, ethics and accountability, and campaign finance.

Like Hoyer, Sarbanes said passing a legislative package addressing those issues should be Democrats’ first order of business in the new Congress. Doing so would demonstrate that Democrats can deliver on their policy promises to make health care more affordable, lower prescription drug prices, boost wages, reinvigorate manufacturing and clean up the environment, he said.

“I call that caffeinating every other message we have,” Sarbanes said. 

Tiffany Muller, president and executive director of End Citizens United, said she thinks it’s a message voters need to hear. 

“Public corruption is currently the second most important issue to voters behind lowering health care costs — and with independent voters, it’s actually their No. 1 concern,” she said. 

Muller’s organization has provided House Democrats with polling that illustrates the importance of these issues, and with input on legislative solutions. 

End Citizens United is primarily focused on campaign finance overhauls that would reduce the influence of money in politics.

“We’ve endorsed 200 candidates that are making reform a priority in their messaging, 85 of whom are refusing to take corporate PAC money,” Muller said. 

The level of interest among candidates is unprecedented, she said. For example, in 2016 only 7 percent of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s Red to Blue candidates (ones the party provides more resources to because of their chances of winning) pledged not to accept corporate PAC money. This cycle more than 60 percent of the Red to Blue candidates have taken the pledge. 

“It has taken on a life of its own at this point,” Muller said.

Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone or your Android.