So far, the “The Missing Debate” has covered a wide range of policy imperatives, from the future of the Federal Reserve to housing policy to K-12 education. While we’ve discussed a wide range of potential solutions, we’re under no illusion that they are likely to make headway in Washington’s current political climate.
When this vicious electoral season comes to a close, we’re likely to be left with a further divided government and an increasingly polarized electorate. Perhaps the biggest question regarding any policy agenda is whether there is any hope for lawmakers to break through the dysfunction that has paralyzed Congress over the past few years.
For that reason, the final question of the series focuses on reforms that could improve relations between the two parties and make lawmakers more willing to cooperate and pass needed legislation. What is the one most important reform the next administration and Congress should champion to improve the political atmosphere in Washington?
Steve Israel, a Democratic, represents New York’s 3rd Congressional District in the House. He chairs the House Democratic Policy and Communications Committee and is author of the critically acclaimed comic novel, “The Global War on Morris.”
Both sides of the aisle can agree that this election brought with it record levels of anger and frustration with the system. There is a palpable feeling among voters that you only matter if you come with a super PAC.
Ever since the Supreme Court’s disastrous Citizens United decision, we’ve seen corporations and wealthy individuals spend without abandon to elect candidates who align with their priorities. This dark money is bad for our democracy and bad for our government institutions. Even within the halls of Congress, there is a sense of distrust and evasiveness — members do not know where the next attack will come from or who is responsible.
Now, both parties are coming off one of the most grueling campaign seasons in recent memory. To improve the political atmosphere in Washington and on our airwaves, there’s a simple action Congress can take on Day One of the new session: Pass the Disclose Act to provide much-needed transparency to our campaign finance system.
The Disclose Act would require corporations, unions, super PACs and other outside groups to disclose contributions of $10,000 or more within 24 hours to the Federal Election Commission, as well as disclose their source of funding in ads. It would also require them to disclose their spending to their shareholders and require lobbyists to disclose campaign-related expenditures in conjunction with their lobbying activities.
In short: We’ll know who is paying for the political ads that we see jamming the airwaves. I suspect candidates may think twice before going on the attack if they know they will be held responsible, and this may lead to a more transparent and civil environment. That, in turn, leads to greater potential for bipartisanship here in Washington. And the American people deserve it.
Congress tried this in 2010 and failed. Democrats were able to pass the bill in the House, but it was thwarted by Republicans in the Senate. However, maybe — just maybe — Republicans now realize how important this bill is after trudging through this grueling election season.
When Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) took the gavel about a year ago, he said during one of his first news conferences that he feels “we have an obligation to the hardworking citizens of this country to show them how we would do things differently, to tackle our country’s problems before they tackle us, and to get things fixed, to advance our principles, to show how we can make things better for people who are struggling in America.”
Why keep waiting? We’ve seen the unprecedented levels of voter frustration this election cycle. We’ve heard from so many of them that they feel disenfranchised. Our system cannot continue as is.
Let’s give voters back their voice. Let’s bring transparency to our political system and let’s end the regime of dark money that is poisoning the political atmosphere. Let’s pass the Disclose Act.