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After four difficult years, let’s open government up ‘For the People’

Enacting HR 1 would go a long way toward restoring Americans’ trust in our political system

Voters stand in line to vote early in Snellville, Ga., last fall. HR 1 would expand early voting opportunities so voters can avoid long lines, Hoyer writes.
Voters stand in line to vote early in Snellville, Ga., last fall. HR 1 would expand early voting opportunities so voters can avoid long lines, Hoyer writes. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

In 2018, House Democrats won the majority on a promise that we would refocus the chamber on delivering “For the People.” 

The centerpiece of that effort was HR 1, the For the People Act, comprehensive legislation to root out corruption in government, increase transparency and accountability, impose higher ethics standards, strengthen voting rights, limit the influence of dark money in our politics, and reform the way we draw the maps for congressional districts to make them fairer. 

Within weeks of assuming control, thanks to the leadership of Rep. John Sarbanes and input from across our caucus, we brought HR 1 to the floor and passed it. Unfortunately, the Republican-controlled Senate refused even to consider it and let it die with the 116th Congress.

This week, as one of the first actions of the 117th Congress, I am proud to bring HR 1 to the floor again, this time with a Democratic-led Senate and a president in the Oval Office committed to governing For the People. As we seek to return the focus of American government to the people, Democrats will press forward with our reform agenda, which starts with HR 1. With the bill’s key reforms, Congress can renew Americans’ faith that government exists to serve them, elevate their voices, and help them get ahead — by placing the power of government back in their hands.

First and foremost, HR 1 would enhance voting rights protections to ensure that our democracy works For the People. It would make voter registration automatic, expand early voting opportunities so more people can avoid long lines and participate on their own schedule, and restore voting rights to those who have paid their debts to society and ought to be full participants in our democracy. 

HR 1 would also end the practice of partisan redistricting, replacing it with a nonpartisan process nationwide, to ensure that all voters’ voices are heard equally. I was proud to lead the last major legislative reform of our voting rules in 2002, when Congress passed my bill, the Help America Vote Act. Now, it is time to enact HR 1 and take the next steps forward.

HR 1 would finally require super PACs to reveal their donors, shining the disinfecting light of truth into what has become the darkest corners of our politics. Since the Supreme Court began allowing undisclosed donations to super PACs in 2013, a tide of dark money has drowned our elections in negativity, misinformation and hyperpartisanship. It’s time for that to end; it’s time for a return to transparency in our elections.

The past four years have been a stark reminder that those who serve in public office must be held to the highest standards of ethics and accountability. That’s why HR 1 would require presidential and vice-presidential candidates to release a decade’s worth of tax returns, revealing potential financial conflicts of interest. It also would impose higher ethics standards, and it would close the loophole that currently allows presidential inaugural committees to raise money without disclosing their donors. 

Democrats are cognizant that we cannot restore the people’s trust overnight. No single piece of legislation alone will accomplish that. But HR 1 will go a long way toward that aim. This is an effort that unites Democrats and enjoys broad popular support among Americans across the political spectrum. When the House passed this bill in 2019, not a single Republican voted in favor. That was disappointing, and I hope that, this time around, Republicans eager to move forward from the corruption and ethical lapses of the past four years will join us in sending a message that government can and must do better. 

When government works — when it is truly “of the people, by the people and for the people” — it can be a powerful tool to help our people attain the justice, opportunity and economic security that enable them to make it in America. As we face the twin crises of a deadly pandemic and its severe economic impact, opening government up and making it more accountable and transparent will help us build back better and stronger by ensuring that all Americans are full participants in this great national effort. 

That’s why HR 1 is so critical — and why Congress and the president must do all we can to see it enacted.

Rep. Steny H. Hoyer is the House majority leader. A Democrat, he is currently in his 20th full term representing Maryland’s 5th District.