For our country to succeed economically, our market-based system must function alongside strong, effective government. Strong, effective government, in turn, requires a functioning democratic process. By repairing our democracy, H.R. 1 and H.R. 4 could pave the way for policies that achieve the interdependent objectives of strong growth, widespread economic well-being and reduced inequality.
These bills are so important that if they can garner majority support, Senate rules should be changed so that they can be passed even without 60 votes.
Faith in democracy and faith in markets go hand in hand. People support pro-growth policies when they believe they will share in the benefits of growth. For these benefits to be widely shared, we need an inclusive growth policy agenda. This can be achieved only if elected officials feel accountable to the broader public. And there is broad accountability only if voting is widespread.
H.R. 1 expands the ease and accessibility of voting. Under the bill, Americans would automatically be registered to vote when they apply for state services. States would also be required to allow voters to register online. The legislation would implement universal voting by mail; provide at least 15 days of early voting for federal elections in every state; and, wherever possible, make polling places located adjacent to public transportation.
The bills also include new campaign finance measures, such as improved disclosures and small-dollar matching, that would give voice to lower- and middle-income people and help ensure that income inequality does not translate as readily into political inequality, and vice versa.
This legislation could also serve as a balm for our increasingly polarized politics. H.R. 1 bans partisan gerrymandering and requires the use of independent commissions to draw congressional districts. Mapping rules would be made consistent throughout the country, and the public would have a chance to review the maps and comment before they are finalized. Districts that heavily favor one party could become competitive again, and each side would be incentivized to win a broad majority of voters — not simply a vocal sliver of primary voters.
When elected officials believe it’s in their self-interest to appeal to a broader swath of the electorate, they are more likely to ground decisions in facts and analysis and to engage in principled compromise. They are also more resistant to the pull of populism and nationalism.
H.R. 1 and H.R. 4 would be worthy priorities under any circumstances. But we are not facing any circumstances. The current political moment makes protecting the democratic process not merely important but absolutely crucial.
These vote-restricting laws could render the political process unable to correct itself. That means our choice isn’t between reforming our democracy now or reforming it later: It’s between reforming our democracy now and not being able to reform our democracy because it’s too late.
Ideally, H.R. 1, which the House of Representatives passed this month, and H.R. 4, a version of which the House passed in 2019, would pass with wide bipartisan majorities after a traditional Senate debate. But if the bills don’t garner 60 votes, yet a majority is ready to pass these bills into law, the Senate should declare that H.R. 1 and H.R. 4 are so important that the 60-vote threshold for breaking a filibuster and ending debate should no longer apply to them, regardless of where senators stand on the broader question of eliminating or reforming the filibuster altogether.
In business, government and life, bad processes inevitably lead to bad outcomes. The process by which our leaders are elected is broken and growing worse. Repairing that electoral process — if necessary, by bypassing the legislative filibuster — isn’t just about abstract ideas of fairness and equality. It’s also an essential act to advance policies that improve Americans’ well-being, thereby strengthening the foundation of both our democracy and our market economy.