How House Democrats have made the most of their majority
The Democrats may control the House of Representatives, but how much is that majority really worth? After all, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) touts himself as the “grim reaper” for legislation passed by the House. President Trump scorns Democrats for not getting anything done, while blowing up negotiations on rebuilding U.S. infrastructure. House progressives revolt when Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) folds to the Senate on emergency aid for the president’s border calamity. The media still fixates on impeachment, the special counsel and the Russians, instead of policies.
In fact, House Democrats are demonstrating what might be possible if voters decided to hand their party the Senate and White House. They’ve passed landmark legislation, convened critical hearings and begun to expose and check the pervasive corruption of the Trump administration. They’ve proved that voters would feel the difference if McConnell and Trump were not standing in the way.
In their first bill, the For the People Act, House Democrats passed the most comprehensive democratic reforms in history. The law would require states to provide same-day and automatic voter registration. It would make Election Day a federal holiday. It would encourage a turn away from big-money politics, with a 6-to-1 match of small donations. It would place strict limits on foreign lobbying and political donations, require disclosure of donors to super PACs and other “dark money” operations, and mandate that candidates for president and vice president release 10 years of their tax returns. It would provide statehood for the District of Columbia and end partisan gerrymandering. Were it passed into law, U.S. elections would be more open, more honest and less dominated by big money. Needless to say, McConnell has blocked it from coming to a vote in the Senate.
Beyond this comprehensive bill, the House has also passed legislation that would provide pay equity for women, prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identification, and to protect “dreamers” and offer a path to citizenship. It passed a bill that would lower the price of prescription drugs, and mandate the protection of preexisting conditions, something the president has promised even as his Justice Department argues against it in court. And it passed universal background checks for all gun sales.
On foreign policy, House progressives have begun to act in the face of Trump’s broken promise to end “stupid wars.” Led by Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), both chambers passed a resolution to end the United States’ disgraceful involvement in Saudi Arabia’s savaging of Yemen. Trump vetoed the bill while continuing to embrace the Saudi regime. Prompted by Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), the House last month passed a resolution to sunset the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force, which presidents have used to justify interventions throughout the world. Khanna is now moving an amendment to the defense authorization bill that would prohibit the use of any funds for war in Iran without prior congressional consent.
Members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus have used their increased clout for drive reform. Under the influence of caucus co-chair Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), Medicare-for-all has now received two major hearings in the House, the beginning of what must be an extensive legislative process to help Americans understand this sweeping change. Thanks to Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and the progressive caucus, the Green New Deal has become a centerpiece of the platforms for virtually every Democratic candidate for the presidency. The caucus has used its clout also to increase progressive representation on major House committees, from Appropriations to Finance. The immediate benefits have already been visible during hearings, such as when freshman Rep. Katie Porter (D-Calif.) schooled JPMorgan Chase chief executive Jamie Dimon on the obscene pay disparities within his own bank. The CPC has put forth basic principles for a progressive trade policy and is leading the effort to force amendment of Trump’s NAFTA 2.0. It is now gearing up to force a vote on a $15 national minimum wage.
All of these successes have taken place in the six months that Democrats have held the majority in the House, even as they’ve confronted a lawless, vindictive president.
Naturally, this progress has been rocky. Pelosi faces pressure from both vulnerable centrist Democrats and ever-more-powerful and feisty progressives. Senate Democrats sabotaged House Democrats’ efforts to increase protections for children in the border relief bill. The media fixation on Trump and on impeachment means that little of this gets much attention.
But the results are clear. When Republicans controlled the White House and both houses of Congress, they passed tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations, larded more money on the Pentagon, wasted months failing to repeal the Affordable Care Act, all while the president turned his administration into a predator’s ball.
Under Democratic control, the minimum wage would rise, prescription drug prices would fall, our elections would be cleaner, investment in schools would increase and civil rights would be strengthened. The United States would once more lead the world in addressing climate change and begin to bring the endless wars to a close. Our diversity would once more be embraced as a strength rather than mocked as a way to divide us. Six months of a Democratic majority in the House has demonstrated that these outcomes and much more could be accomplished — if voters decide to defeat those standing in the way.