House Democrats have passed HR 1, their signature anti-corruption and voting rights reform bill, for the second time in two years. But even though their party now holds the majority in the Senate, the bill has a tough road ahead of it.
As the numeral suggests, HR 1 and its Senate component S 1 — also known as the For the People Act — are Democrats’ first legislative priority. The sweeping democracy reform bill has been top of the list since House Democrats first took back the majority in the 2018 midterms and immediately set about expanding voting rights and getting money out of politics.
There’s a lot of ground covered in its nearly 800 pages, but some of its key points are creating a national system for automatic voter registration, putting in transparency requirements for political advertising, and instituting nonpartisan redistricting commissions to end partisan gerrymandering.
Polling back in 2019 and now shows the bill is broadly popular with the public, but it went nowhere in the Republican-led Senate in 2019. Even with the current slim Democratic control (a 50-50 Senate with Vice President Kamala Harris as the tiebreaker), it will be incredibly difficult to pass with the required 60 votes to skirt the Senate filibuster. The politics are even tighter this time; some moderate House Democrats who voted for the bill last time, for instance, pushed more aggressively for changes this time around.
The bill’s future in the Senate is also untested, as then-Majority Leader McConnell never allowed it to come to the floor in 2019.
“If Mitch McConnell is not willing to provide 10 Republicans to support this landmark reform, I think Democrats are going to step back and reevaluate the situation,” Rep. John Sarbanes (D-MD), the author of HR 1, told Vox in a recent interview. “There’s all manner of ways you could redesign the filibuster so [the bill] would have a path forward.”
One path that’s being discussed is partially amending Senate filibuster rules to allow democracy reform legislation like HR 1 to advance on a simple majority vote and therefore potentially be able to pass on a party-line vote. That would be different from fully blowing up the filibuster, but it still could get pushback from Senate institutionalists even in the Democratic Party like Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), a staunch advocate of keeping the filibuster in place.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), the chair of the Senate Rules Committee, which will mark up the bill and move it forward, said she wants to bring the bill to the floor and see what the support for it is before she moves on to potential filibuster reform.
“We’ll go to the floor; that’s when we see where we are,” Klobuchar told Vox in an interview, saying her committee will look to see, “is there filibuster reform that could be done generally or specifically?”
Democrats are arguing that voting and democracy reforms are popular — and long overdue
Democrats are hoping the 2020 election gives them an argument for this bill. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Americans in many states were given more options and flexibility to vote through the mail or with in-person early voting. The results were a record 158.4 million ballots cast; 2020 presidential election turnout was about 7 percentage points higher than in 2016, according to Pew Research Center.
“We had more people vote in the November election than ever before,” Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson told reporters on Tuesday.
HR 1, among other initiatives, would cement many of those temporary expansions. And recent polling from the progressive firm Data for Progress showed the bill more broadly is popular across parties and supported by a majority of Democratic, independent, and Republican voters. The poll found that 67 percent of national likely voters supported HR 1, including 56 percent of Republicans, 68 percent of independents, and 77 percent of Democrats.
Republican legislatures in multiple…