House Democrats’ HR 1 – Faking the Funk on Voting Rights, Spreading Fear and Gunning For the Greens in 2020

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House Democrats’ HR 1 – Faking the Funk on Voting Rights, Spreading Fear and Gunning For the Greens in 2020

It’s a brand new year and Democrats running the House of Representatives under Nancy Pelosi, Jim Clyburn and Steny Hoyer need to rebrand themselves in preparation for the 2020 elections. So Team Pelosi has rolled out what they and their far flung chorus of corporate media hacks from MSNBC to so-called “woke” social media are calling their flagship bill for the 116th Congress. To hear them tell it, it’s all about ending corruption in Congress and the White House, about taking the Big Money out of politics, and most of all, it’s about protecting voting rights.

It’s HR 1, a 571 page monstrosity, actually a sleazy ghetto ice cream truckload of empty promises Democrats wouldn’t keep even if they had the power, and which they refused to put forward when they DID have the power. In typical Democrat fashion HR 1 also contains a couple of serious threats against American left dissenters in general and the Green Party in particular which Democrats might just be able to carry out if they seek and secure the support of a modest number of House and Senate Republicans. As of our publication date HR 1 does not yet appear on the official House web site, but we read the version on the web site of its sponsor, Congressman John Sarbanes of Maryland. You can also find it at the Brennan Center for Justice.

HR 1 pretends to be a voting rights bill, but is in fact a sleazy ghetto ice cream truckload of empty campaign promises intended to rebrand Democrats as the party of voting rights, despite their dismal non-record of struggle to protect or expand these rights. They are all commonsense measures Nancy P, who has been part of House Democrat leadership since the 1990s, and has led Democrats in the House since 2003, could have tried to put into law at any time, many times over the past twenty-five and more years. But they didn’t.

Here’s HR 1’s list of what ought to be real and significant voting rights reforms. But again, coming from Nancy P and the House Dems at the beginning of the 2020 campaign season they are obviously no more than empty and cynical campaign promises:

  • Internet voter registration;

  • automatic voter registration via the records kept by state agencies;

  • same day voter registration;

  • limits on the conditions under which voters can be removed from official lists;

  • requiring states to gather and report data on voter registration at DMV facilities, and in the age, sex, race and ethnicity of newly registered voters and those who have moved;

  • making the provision of false and misleading information on registration or voting a federal felony;

  • requires the electronic and mail transmission of blank absentee ballots to those who apply for them;

  • overrules state level voter ID laws by allowing voters to confirm their identities with pre-printed sworn statements;

  • requires paper ballots and the establishment of hand counted audit systems for federal elections;

  • limits felony disenfranchisement to prisoners actually serving time in federal institutions;

  • prohibits voter caging, the voter suppression tactic of sending non-forwardable direct mailings to blocks of voters in poorer neighborhoods where people move relatively often followed up by challenges to the voting rights of all those whose mail is returned;

  • limits the the grounds upon which non-governmental actors may challenge someone’s right to vote;

  • bans a range of campaign activities on the part of every state’s top election official, usually the Secretary of State a statewide elected office. In recent years Secretaries of State have administered elections while serving as the state campaign chairs for presidential candidates or as in Georgia last year, even gubernatorial candidates;

  • place limits on the “any time we wanna do it” redrawing of congressional maps which have occurred in several states;

  • require the establishment of independent redistricting commissions which would be banned from drawing maps in favor of one or another party.

  • In the cynical spirit of Bill Clinton, who came out for DC statehood during his last and lamest duck week in the White House, HR 1 mentions the glaring injustice of DC’s non-statehood, but shrinks back from proposing the only just and fair remedy of actual statehood. So DC statehood gets a kind of dishonorable mention here.

All these proposals are pretty much borrowed or stolen from the actual left, some of which are captive constituencies allowed to ride in the Democratic party’s trunk and let out to vote every two years. Since Congress has maintained a minimum re-election rate around 90% for decades, hearing stuff like this from top Democratic party leaders is only great good news till you look at their history on voting rights. When you do that the music pretty much stops, because the history of the last 25 years clearly indicates that Democrats in Congress have no such intention.

House Democrats, along with Democrats in the Senate and, Democrats in the Clinton and Obama Justice Departments, and Democrats in the White House have pretty much stood by idly the past quarter century while Republicans on the state level and in the judiciary have painstakingly assembled and implemented bit by bit what is now a vast panoply of administrative tactics, state laws and court rulings aimed at minimizing, intimidating and blocking and suppressing the anti-Republican vote. The sudden Democrat conversion to make themselves ardent protectors of the right to vote comes conveniently at the start of the 2020 election season, when they control ONLY the House of Representatives. Though the Senate, the White House, much of the federal court and a majority of the Supreme Court are in Republican hands today, but when Democrats DID the power to actually advance these reforms they DID next to nothing. So it’s really hard for any sober and sentient being to take this stuff seriously coming from Nancy P and the gang of 200 and something.

HR 1 is also the House Democrat bid to rebrand themselves into crusaders against big money in politics and corruption in public office.

Given that most owe their own careers to the generosity of Big Oil, Big Real Estate, Big Agriculture, Big Chemical and Pharma, the banksters who crashed the economy in 2007-2008, the hedge fund boyz, Amazon, Silicon Valley, Wal-Mart, the charter school sugar daddies, privatizers, payday lenders, and the galaxy of contractors of the Pentagon, the “intelligence community,” Homeland Security and the probation and private prison industries, this is either a sudden and shocking transformation or empty and cynical 2020 campaign rhetoric. Go figger.

But again we can’t look away from the source and timing. It’s Nancy P and the House Dems and it’s the kickoff of the 2020 campaign season.? Here’s HR 1’S list of anti-corruption and taking the money out of politics reforms. Given their record, can anyone really believe these are any more than hollow and empty campaign promises? These newly converted reformers say they want to

  • Establish a pilot program in three states in which voters would get a $25 voucher they could use to donate to what the bill calls any “qualified” congressional candidate.

  • Establish a regime under which all congressional and presidential candidates might apply for a 6 to 1 matching funds grant on funds amassed in donations of $200 and less. The current matching funds regime is 1 to 1 and for presidential candidates only.

  • Require presidential and vice presidential candidates to disclose their tax returns and potential conflicts of interest.

  • Restrict how quickly executive branch employees could return to jobs in or lobbyists for the interest they once “regulated” as federal employees,

  • Ban members of Congress from serving on the boards of for-profit corporations.

  • Require the president, vice president, top executive branch appointees along with members of congress and their staffs to disclose potential conflicts of interest.

  • HR 1 mentions its supposed opposition to Citizens United, the latest Supreme Court ruling affirming that corporations are a special kind of immortal unaccountable “person” entitled to many of the rights but almost none of the obligations of human personhood but like its DC statehood language it proposes no actual law to correct the situation.

As with HR1’s voting rights proposals, all of its ethics and campaign funding stuff with two huge exceptions we will examine in a moment, it would be great good news if Democrats were even half serious about enacting it into law. But of course they are not.

Republicans run the Senate and the White House. Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell has already pledged the entire package of HR 1 is dead on arrival, and right now even that arrival is uncertain since Democratic Senate leader Chuck Schumer has not even bothered to introduce a matching bill in that chamber. Essentially Schumer is not even signing on to this load of cynical promises. Not yet anyway. But if the stench of cynicism is strong enough to make a vulture like Chuck Schumer hesitate, that really says something.

Second, Republicans are not about to give up voter caging, mass purges of young and minority voters, state voter ID laws, lightning round redistricting and the panoply of anti-democratic gerrymandering and other devices they have erected the last 20 years to give them more state and federal legislative seats with millions fewer votes than Democrats.

Third, it’s an old and established fact that the stock market portfolios of House and Senate members have routinely outperformed those of top professional money managers for decades. And why wouldn’t they? It's members members of Congress along with top executive appointees who regulate the very “industries,” if you can call some of them that, in which they invest. Uber, Google, Monsanto and Amazon, just to name a few, powered up entire multibillion dollar business models which were transparently illegal, but attracted lots of well-connected investors. After the first few tens of billions rolled in they purchased enough politicians to legalize their previously illegal business models.

Congress is where the capitalist predators must come to get all kinds of laws and regulations changed in their favor, so members of Congress are in the ultimate spot to receive and to benefit from insider tips. In the 2012 election cycle, the House and Senate DID pass a partial ban on stock market insider trading by members of Congress. But the next year they quietly repealed it on a Friday afternoon voice vote in the House which blurred greasy individual fingerprints. There were 30 seconds of debate. In the Senate the vote to repeal was unanimous. Democratic President Barack Obama quickly and quietly signed it into law. Thanks to Kevin Zeese at PopularResistance.Org for pointing that one out to me. Good catch, comrade.

These newly converted get-the-big-money-outa-politics crusaders are the same House Democrats who did that. They are the same crew who in 2017 responded to Trump’s record breaking military budget, roughly the next nine countries combined spend on their weapons of war and mass destruction, all of it paid for with funds taken away from education, infrastructure, a just transition to a clean energy economy, raising social security, free college tuition and Medicare For All, all the stuff the American people need right here at home. The same House Democrats who back HR 1 today increased Trumps military budget by about $60 billion dollars, an increase as large as the entire yearlly militaryy budget of Russia. Why?

House and Senate Democrats did this in an attempt to outbid Trump and the Republicans for the allegiance of those military contractor contributors. That’s why we at Black Agenda Report often call “the Resistance” “the Assistance.’

But hey, now the 2020 election season has begun. Democrats all wanna knock out Trump, so the Resistance more accurately the Assistance imagines that tens of millions of us are so really, really thirsty we are ready to believe or pretend to believe the Democrat wing of America’s corporate government party have now morphed into crusaders against corruption and big money in politics, and justice everywhere. Yeah. Good to know.

There are only 2 pieces of HR 1 which are NOT empty 2020 campaign promises, and which have a reasonable change of becoming law. Really, really BAD law.

HR 1 has twenty-five or thirty components, all neatly packaged to be lifted out of the 571 page thing and introduced as standalone bills. HR 1 is dead on arrival outside the House. That’s done. Only two of its provisions have even the faintest chance of attracting a few House and Senate Republicans and thus making it to the president’s desk to signed into law.

  1. HR 1 Requires that the “intelligence community” produce a yearly report on threats to the US electoral system.

    HR 1 directly cites the odious McCarthyite accusations of Prop or Not from two years ago as “congressional findings.” These baseless lies assert that left opposition ion the part of the American people to the two capitalist parties is motivated and manipulated by hostile foreign powers operating in social media, grassroots organizations and other places, and that these are imminent threats to national security, specifically the security of the US electoral process. Black Agenda Report is specifically named, the only black owned and operated entity thus fingered. HR 1 requires the FBI, CIA, the Pentagon, DEA, NSA, Homeland Security and the rest of the so-called “intelligence community” – the same people who told us Saddam Hussein had nukes, that the government has never and will never intercept or record your email and online habits, and now says that “black identity extremists” are out to get us – HR 1 requires those professional perjurers, liars and deceivers to produce a yearly report on their manufactured threats to US electoral systems, specifically including the threats to national security by those who express dissident opinions. This part of HR 1 institutionalizes the notion that the left is an existential and foreign-sponsored threat to the security of the electoral process, and creates bodies to police social media. If they really tried, corporate Democrats in the House and Senate really stand a fair chance at getting the modest number of Republican sign-ons to make this a bipartisan thing, and pass it to President Trump to sign.
  2. The second piece of HR 1 which has a chance of gaining the bipartisan needed to become law, if Democrats want it badly enough to seek Republican votes on it, is aimed squarely at keeping the Green Party off the ballot in as many states as possible, and crippling the Green Party’s presidential campaign. This part of HR 1 quintuples amount Green presidential campaigns are required to raise to qualify for federal matching funds from $5,000 in each of 20 states by the last day of 2019, to $25,000 per state in 20 states, and the deadline falls at the end of this very year. I was part of Jill Stein’s campaign team in 2015-2016, and I can tell you we barely met the old threshold in about 22 states. It was a near thing. Eliminating those federal matching funds for a Green Party presidential campaign would mean all but certain erasure of the Green Party from the ballot in a good dozen or more states for 2020, and maybe a dozen more in 2022. Since most states also require a presidential and/or US Senate nominee to appear at the top of the ballot, HR 1 would prohibit the Green Party from running any local candidates in states where a defunded Green Party’s vote drops below a certain level, and it will plummet if Green campaigns, which accept no funding from corporations will be far less able to hire staff or contractors and to perform the necessary functions of a campaign. For a generation now, most Americans have told pollsters they want to see a real third party, not in the middle of the two, but well to the left of both. HR 1 isn’t serious about voting rights, but it’s deadly serious about limiting voter choices at the polls.

HR 1 is the 2020 election season’s brightly painted ghetto ice cream truck. It’s on your Facebook pages, Instagram and other social media feeds, even in some of your more “woke” churches. It's blasting loud music about voting rights, protecting the vote, ballots by mail, getting the money out of political campaigns, and reforming the corrupt ethics of Congress and the Whtie House. But none of that stuff will pass while Republicans run the Senate, while Trump is in the White House, and even if they’re out of office, none of it will pass while Democrats are on the corporate tit themselves. If Democrats do take the White House in 2020 you won’t see that sleazy ghetto ice cream truck or hear HR 1’s voting rights and anti-corruption promises any more either. Bet on that.

HR 1 is not designed to deliver protection for voting rights. It's not intended to take big money out of politics, or safeguard the public interest against official corruption. The only so-called reforms HR 1 can actually deliver are officially manufactured fear of the manufactured threats posed by Americans in America working for change, Americans working to save themselves, their children, their grandchildren and the planet itself from capitalist robbery, genocide and ecocide, along with even more voter suppression through the removal of all voter choices outside the two capitalist parties.

For Black Agenda Radio, I’m Bruce Dixon. Find us on the web at www.blackagendareport.com, the only place where you can guarantee you’re getting fresh weekly news, commentary and analysis from the black left every week, which we’ve have delivered since 2006, by hitting the subscribe button. Google suppresses our appearance in search results, Facebook limits the appearance of our material in your news feeds, and other corporate social media contraptions do the same. But email still flows direct from us to you, so if you visit us at www.blackagendareport.com on your computer or mobile device and you hit that subscribe button you can be certain you will receive our free weekly newsletter containing descriptions of and links to all our weekly published print and audio content for your reading, listening, viewing and especially sharing convenience. Share our newsletter on your favorite social media, and forward the email to family, colleagues, friends and enemies. You can find our audio labeled as Black Agenda Radio, and as Black Agenda Radio Commentaries on iTunes, Stitcher or wherever you get your podcasts. If you catch us on any of these especially iTunes, please leave a comment and review, because that helps new people find us.

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Bruce A. Dixon is managing editor at Black Agenda Report, and a member of the state committee of the Georgia Green Party. He can be contacted directly via email at bruce.dixon(at)blackagendareport.com.

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