Sarbanes Leads Panel That Highlights Bold New Plan to Fix Our Democracy [Video]
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Democracy Reform Task Force Chair Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.) today joined Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Congresswoman Terri Sewell (D-Ala.) and Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) for an event hosted by the Center for American Progress to highlight “A Better Deal for Our Democracy” – Democrats’ bold new plan to clean up the chaos and corruption in Washington.
See here for the full video.
See below for a transcript of Congressman Sarbanes’ remarks.
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“I want to thank CAP, first of all, for hosting this, but more importantly, for this sustained support for the broad package of democracy reforms that we’re here to talk about today. And I think that Leader Pelosi really punctuated all of the reasons why we need this and all of the ways in which we can achieve it.
“I do think, as Leader Pelosi alluded to, that this is a moment. We have the opportunity. We believe in – many of us in the House Democratic Caucus believe – that if we can get the gavel back, we can put forward a broad set of democracy reforms and maybe achieve reforms the likes of which we haven’t seen in terms of how robust they are and meaningful since right after Watergate. I think that’s the kind of moment we’re in right now.
“And it’s because the public is so angry, they’re so disillusioned, they so are convinced that their voice is not heard in Washington and in Congress and in government. That they are desperate for some set of solutions that will restore their voice. And when people feel powerless they can sometimes reach for pretty disruptive solutions to their anger. I think we saw that in 2016. What Democrats want to do is put forward an affirmative, constructive set of democracy reforms that can channel that anger towards something meaningful and positive and restorative of the democracy.
“So, what we’ve put together, we believe, represents A Better Deal for Our Democracy. It is a broad comprehensive framework of democracy reforms that’s been alluded to. It falls into three baskets. And you can Google “H. Res. 975 ‘By the People’” because that exists now, and we introduced it a couple weeks ago with 162 original co-sponsors within the Democratic Caucus.
“So, it’s a very powerful declaration of what we want to see, but it falls into three very clear baskets of reform. One has to do with voter empowerment and making sure that people feel like they’re respected as voters. So that’s where you get redistricting reform, strengthening the Voting Rights Act, automatic voter registration. All the things that can make it easier, not harder, to vote in this country and exercise the franchise. That’s the threshold of whether you’re committed to the democracy.
“And I’m very pleased to be here with two colleagues who’ve really been, I mean, Terri has been here a little longer than Pramila, but they both come from backgrounds where they’ve been fighting on these issues for a long, long time and immediately upon arriving in Washington, took a leadership role. They represent what our colleagues across the causes are doing, which is coming with ideas. Not their own ideas that they sort of just made up, but ideas that they formulated based on listening very, very carefully to their constituents, to the way people feel out there and that’s what leader Pelosi talked about. I think Democrats are listening. I think we get it. I think this package of reforms shows that we get it, and represents our efforts to achieve something meaningful. So, voter empowerment, voting rights, lifting up the American voter, protecting the franchise. That’s a critical, critical piece of the reform package.
“The second basket is ethics and accountability. How do you promote and translate people’s expectation that when lawmakers get to Washington, they will behave. That’s essentially what this basket is about. ‘We’ve elected you. We want you to go there and represent us! Don’t sort of turn things over to the lobbyists, don’t violate ethical norms, don’t ignore the precepts of the Office of Government Ethics which is they make sure that you act properly.’ So, the second basket is a whole set of proposals, and behind each of these things in the resolution I can tell you there are meaningful pieces of legislation that have been introduced. But these are the proposals that say behave, be ethical, be transparent, be accountable. So that’s the second basket of democracy reforms that is contained.
“And the third – my favorite – is the campaign finance reform basket. And this is where, this is tough, because this is where the cynicism is so deep and so corrosive out there in the public that you have to lean into it in a real way. You have to show that you’re going to do something real. If you’re Democrats and you get a gavel and you go to do something and you don’t make it real, then the public may say that we’ve traded in one party that’s bought and sold for another party that’s bought and sold. They want to see that were going to make a difference.
“So this is disclosure of where the big money comes from the secret money so people know what kind of money is pouring into their democracy. It’s strengthening the FEC, the Federal Elections Commission, so they can do its job and enforce the rules. These are all things that matter to people out there. It’s a Constitutional Amendment that tries to address that tragedy of the Citizens United case. And fundamentally, it’s creating a new way of financing campaigns in America that’s based on small donors and matching funds.
“And before I close these comments, I just want to say that piece – I think there’s nothing that will do more to address people’s sense of powerlessness than to create a system of financing campaigns that puts the average person, everyday citizens, right at the center of the solution. We can have all the rules in the world on policing the conduct and behavior of the big-money players and the lobbyists – and we should. But if we’ve going to get people out of the bleachers of their democracy and onto the field where they feel like they have power and they matter we have to give them a way of saying, ‘You know what, we’ll underwrite these campaigns and you work for us, so you don’t have to go hat-in-hand to the lobbyists, so you don’t have to go to the corporations. We’ll back your campaigns, and the bargain is you go to Washington and you represent our interest and not the special interest.’
“So voter empowerment, ethics and accountability, campaign finance reform. H Res. 975, By the People Resolution. That’s where we make our declaration of principles on this. That’s going to be our North Star. We can get the gavel and move quickly, as a first order of business, to get a meaningful set of reforms on the House floor.”
“Well thanks for having us and I’ll just go back to what Leader Pelosi said so I don’t have to go on too long about it. She made those connections, she made the point, that it’s not either health or talking about democracy reforms, it’s the fact that they go together.
“The reality is the reason that the pharmaceutical industry has so much influence in Washington – the reason that we can’t get Medicare to be able to negotiate drug prices with the pharmaceutical industry – is because they have an army of lobbyists, they contribute hundreds of millions of dollars to campaigns, they fund super PACs and they lean on the policymaking machinery and ensure that we can’t get that result. The oil and gas industry stands in the way of real progress on climate change, on the environment, because again, they’ve got the lobbyists and they’ve got the money to lean in and get the attention of lawmakers in the ways that the average person and folks who care about the environment cannot do.
“And the economy. Wall street wrote that tax bill. And it was a payment on delivery exercise. You look at who sent in and how much money they sent in to Paul Ryan and to these other crafters of the bill when that tax bill got delivered. I mean, talk about fueling people’s cynicism. That was payment on delivery. And Leader Pelosi read you the quotes, where they feel perfectly comfortable just talking about it out in the open.
“I mean how can you blame the person who’s sitting there in their kitchen, watching this play out on their television and saying, ‘You know what, I’m walking away from this democracy because it doesn’t respect me. I have no voice. People don’t care about who I am.’ And they go up into the hills and they hunker down.
“And I’ll close by saying this: A lot of them – because we talk to them – a lot of them are saying, ‘We’ll come back into the political town square. We’ll come back into democracy if you unrig it, if you fix it. We’ll come back.’ And what we’re saying is, ‘We need you to come back to help us fix it.’ This is a partnership. We’re going to put forward something real and meaningful. But we need the public to stand up and say, ‘Yes, this is what we want. Go get this done, Democrats.’ That‘s what the Better Deal for Democracy is. that’s what the By the People Resolution is. This is a moment, I think we can seize it, I think we can make this happen.”