As we speak with newly elected members of Congress from across the country, we hear one loud, clear, and consistent refrain — that many of them decided to run for office to restore faith in our democratic institutions and return us to a government of, by, and for the people.
Democratic leadership in Congress has heard this call too, and has stated unequivocally that the very first order of business in the 116th Congress will be to introduce and pass a comprehensive reform bill that will diminish the role of money in politics, restore ethics and integrity to our government, and make sure that every American has access to the ballot box.
On Election Day, Americans held a referendum on the kind of government they want to see. Voters here in Pennsylvania and across the country made clear they want to reestablish the shared ideals that have served as the bedrock of our democracy for more than two centuries. They want to end the corrosive influence of wealthy donors and well-connected special interests. They want public servants to serve the public, not strive for self-enrichment. And they want to make it easier, not harder, to vote.
But that ends now.
Our first order of business in the new Congress — H.R. 1 — will ensure that Americans have fair access to absentee ballots and early voting, along with expanding access to in-person voting. We will also build the case for restoring the Voting Rights Act, enact national automatic voter registration, and strengthen our election security. We want to put an end to hours-long lines at polling places, broken voting machines, and inequitable vote counting. H.R. 1 will seek to ensure that every vote will be counted, every vote will be respected, and every vote will be heard.
H.R. 1 will also establish a culture of ethics and integrity in Washington. It will close the revolving door between government and private industries, impose strong new ethics laws to stop officials from using their public office for personal gain, and curb the influence of high-powered Washington insiders, lobbyists, and big-money donors.
Finally, and most importantly, H.R. 1 will end the dominance of big money in our politics. It will bring transparency to our campaign finance system, fight back against the wrongheaded Supreme Court Citizens United decision that laid the foundation for unlimited political spending from special interest groups, and restore power to the people by amplifying small donors and giving ordinary Americans more voice in our democracy.
These reforms will change the balance of power in Washington. They will remove barriers to our democracy that drown out the voices of too many Americans. They will put the people back in charge.
And when we restore our democratic institutions, Congress will be able to deliver policy outcomes that improve the lives of all Americans — from lowering the cost of prescription drugs to improve access to medical care, to rebuilding our nation’s infrastructure, to raising wages and creating better job opportunities, to prohibiting discrimination against LGBTQ people and passing the Dream Act to create a path to citizenship for young undocumented immigrants. These critical priorities all rest on fixing our broken democracy.
To the people of Pennsylvania and all Americans, we have heard your calls for change, and Democrats stand ready to give you the government you deserve.
Mary Gay Scanlon represents Pennsylvania’s Seventh Congressional District and in the new Congress will represent Pennsylvania’s Fifth Congressional District. John Sarbanes represents Maryland’s Third Congressional District and chairs the Democracy Reform Task Force in the House of Representatives.