Happy New Year, good peoples! Now call your Senators and tell them to pass H.R. 1, the For the People Act; H.R. 3, the Lower Drug Costs Now Act; H.R. 4, the Voting Rights Advancement Act; H.R. 5, the Equality Act; H.R. 6, the American Dream and Promise Act; H.R. 7, the Paycheck Fairness Act; H.R. 582, the Raise the Wage Act; H.R. 986, the Protecting Americans with Pre-Existing Conditions Act; H.R. 1146, the Arctic Cultural and Coastal Plain Protection Act; H.R. 1373, the Grand Canyon Centennial Act; H.R. 1644, the Save the Internet Act; H.R. 2513, the Corporate Transparency Act; H.R. 2722, the SAFE Act; and H.R. 5035, the Television Viewer Protection Act. All you need do in your phone call is tell your Senators to pass these bills -- you need not explain your will, you only need deliver it, and in my experience Congressional staffers don't make a habit of challenging your will; it's their job to pass your will to your Senators. Nonetheless, I'll explain in some detail why we should pass these bills, since (also in my experience) we feel better when we call if we have more to say than we have to.
H.R. 1, the For the People Act, would allow national automatic voter registration, require disclosure of large campaign contributions, create a public campaign financing system, make Election Day a national holiday, and mandate that states use nonpartisan commissions to draw up districts -- all things we've been fighting for in other bills over the years. Automatic voter registration, in particular, would automatically register a lot of folks when they move, since they'll have to change their driver's license (if they have one) when they move, and that will help counter state efforts to de-register people they "suspect" have moved. Not too many Americans actually favor "more big money campaign ads" or "more secret corporate involvement in political campaigns" -- most Americans, in fact, will tell you these things are evil. It often seems like the only people who don't think they're evil, in fact, are the ones who rely on secret corporate campaign donations to survive at the polls. But why should they get all the say about everything? Is that the world we would have made?
H.R. 3, the Lower Drug Costs Act, isn't perfect, but our agitation for a better bill prompted some members of Congress to demand (and get) improvements; H.R. 3, as passed by the House, would allow Medicare to negotiate prices and upwards of 25 brand-name drugs that don't have any competition from generic drugs. H.R. 3 would also cap such drug prices at either the average drug price of six other developed nations or (if that info isn't available, i.e., because a drug is only available in America) 85% of the current American drug prices. If the Senate wants to amend the bill so that it lets Medicare negotiate for all drugs on the market, well, I won't complain -- indeed, bills from Sens. Sanders (I-VT) and Warren (D-MA) would be considerably more comprehensive than H.R. 3. But I don't let the perfect murder the good, either, so H.R. 3 deserves your support. Remember that when Senators say the "free market" should be allowed to work its will, it's OK to remind them that the market's "will" is apparently for good Americans to die because they can't afford insulin for their diabetes or an EpiPen for anaphylactic shock.
H.R. 4, the Voting Rights Advancement Act, would plug the hole our Supreme Court blew in the Voting Rights Act in its Shelby County v. Holder ruling. Our Court said that singling out Southern states for pre-clearance of state-level voting law changes was unfair to them, but our Court also said that a different pre-clearance formula that didn't single out Southern states would likely pass their muster. Hence H.R. 4 would subject any state or locality with a demonstrated history of voting rights violations to federal pre-clearance, which would only "single out" Southern states if they're the ones doing the most vote suppression! Sadly, vote suppression is a national sport now, reaching as far north as Wisconsin (where folks of color somehow get targeted by de-registration efforts far more than white folks) and Michigan (where Interstate Crosscheck may have delivered that state's electoral votes to our President in 2016). Luckily, the Voting Rights Advancement Act would give us the tools to stop it.
H.R. 5, the Equality Act, would amend the Civil Rights Act and the Fair Housing Act (among other laws) to extend civil rights protections to gay and transgender folk -- who can still get fired, denied housing, and denied credit just because of who they are and whom they love. You may be pleased to know that a lot of folks who don't like gays and don't have gay friends aren't necessarily in favor of firing them, denying them housing, and denying them credit just because they're gay or transgender! And that includes some of our President's most devoted supporters! Really, it's only the proverbial loudest wagons of our political discourse who insist that gay and transgender folk should remain second-class citizens forever; most Americans really are live-and-let-live types who don't want to get too involved with regulating other folks' genitals and what they do with them. Our laws should honor our best natures as Americans, and the Equality Act would do that, by giving gay and transgender folks the same tools to redress grievances that other historically-aggrieved classes have.
H.R. 6, the American Dream and Promise Act, would reverse our President's executive order revoking the DACA (or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) program which allows immigrants brought here as children (and therefore against their will) can continue to stay here if they contribute to American society. Seems like a fairly uncontroversial idea, right? Not for our President or his most nativist votaries, who would happily send immigrants back to countries they don't recognize, as long as it gives them an opportunity to stay enraged at something. Rage is a hell of a drug, as I'm sure you've figured out by now -- you can never get enough of it, and thus the worst of Our Glorious Elites move the rage-addled around from one manufactured outrage to another. Raging against childhood arrivals by saying THEY'RE TEH ILLEGULZ AND TEH ILLEGULZ MUST TEH GOEZ!!!! is not actually very "law and order" of them -- childhood arrivals, as I've said, had literally no choice in coming to America, and removing them just so you can indulge in rage is cruel. It'll bite you in the ass, too, but that won't help any of these immigrants in the meantime.
H.R. 7, the Paycheck Fairness Act would give women more tools to fight pay discrimination. H.R. 7 would outlaw clauses in employment contracts that prevent workers from talking about their pay, and would prevent retaliation against employees who do talk about their pay -- and these are important, since talking about your pay is usually how you find out you're being shafted. The bill would still allow employers to pay men and women differently based on bona fide factors like, you know, skill levels and qualifications, but would restrict employers' ability to manufacture a "bona fide factor" after the fact. And the bill would also stiffen penalties for discriminating against women workers. It's hard to actually argue against these things, since no one wants to be called "objectively pro-paycheck discrimination," so its opponents yell about "trial lawyers" -- how hysterically lazy! -- and "what about when men are more qualified than women?", which, hey, re-read the third sentence of this paragraph if that's you or someone you know. When someone yells something like that about a bill, you're right to question whether they've read it or understood it.
H.R. 582, the Raise the Wage Act, would raise our minimum wage from $7.25/hour to $15/hour gradually over the next six years -- yeah, I made sure to put those last six words there, for all the haters who say IT'S TOO TEH FASTZ!!!!! -- and would increase that minimum wage every year thereafter in accordance with the rise in the median hourly wage. The bill would also hike the minimum wages for tipped workers and disabled workers gradually and close the gap between these and the regular minimum wage. The arguments against this bill might give a lot of people pause, but they fall apart upon closer (or, indeed, any) analysis. Fast food workers make $20/hour in Denmark, but that hasn't resulted in $20 Big Macs there -- Big Macs cost around $5.50 there, which ain't that much more than they cost here. And that CBO study that said a higher minimum wage would kill half a million jobs? Actually, that study said job losses could range from zero to a million jobs lost, that range represents jobs lost over 10 years, and the economy already needs to make a million jobs roughly every seven months just to keep up with population growth, so let's not go in for hysteria.
H.R. 986, the Protecting Americans with Pre-Existing Conditions Act, would roll back an Administration guidance issued in October of 2018 which actually weakened the Affordable Care Act's guarantee that health insurance corporations couldn't deny you health insurance (and therefore health care) because of your pre-existing health conditions. The Administration's guidance allows sub-standard health insurance programs to operate legally in the United States, even if they discriminate against folks with pre-existing conditions, a nefarious practice the Affordable Care Act would have ended (even if the ACA has dozens of other flaws which we have already discussed at length). The Administration's guidance was never about delivering "really great health care" to Americans; it's about letting health insurance corporations flout the law, and of course it's also about taking a crap over a Barack Obama legislative achievement because Mr. Obama made fun of the President that one time. Really, I'm pretty sure that's what it was -- and if it's not, it's likely something about as petty, and Americans deserve better than to be held hostage to a President's pettiness.
H.R. 1146, the Arctic Cultural and Coastal Plain Protection Act, would keep oil and gas drilling corporations out of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (or ANWR) by repealing that part of the 2017 tax "reform" that authorized oil and gas drilling in the Arctic. H.R. 1146 would also impose inspection fees on corporations that drill offshore so that our government can actually fund these inspections. You know all the good reasons we shouldn't drill in the Arctic: because there's not that much oil to be drilled there, because it would threaten Alaska's salmon industry, because it would threaten local indigenous populations and wildlife, and because cleaning up a spill in the frigid Arctic is many times harder than cleaning up one in a more temperate region. What's the reason we would drill up there (aside from getting Sen. Murkowski of Alaska to vote on a tax "reform" bill she might have voted against)? Oh, you know, to make some crony oil or gas CEO rich. That's really all of it -- they'll say it's "jobs," but what of the actual jobs in the salmon industry that'll go away after the next oil spill?
H.R. 1373, the Grand Canyon Centennial Act, would permanently withdraw over a million acres of Grand Canyon-area land from any drilling or mining considerations. It's a bit stunning that we would even consider drilling around the Grand Canyon -- I mean, you've been to the Grand Canyon, right? -- but uranium mining corporations have had a jones to do that for decades, and our President of course has a jones to give them whatever they want, since public lands exist merely for exploitation in his mind. This, even though uranium mining would inevitably pollute the Colorado River upon which citizens of five American states depend for clean water! The bill would also protect any additional land in the Grand Canyon area that our government acquires after the bill becomes law. So, to sum: we could preserve a national treasure and protect the drinking water used by tens of millions of Americans -- orwe could make a few corporate CEOs even richer. It's not much of a choice, really, though Our Glorious Elites do keep choosing wrong.
H.R. 1644, the Save the Internet Act, would reverse the FCC's 2017 net neutrality repeal and reinstate the FCC's 2015 Open Internet Order, which originally encoded the principle of net neutrality in law. All the bills I've listed have earned a lot of popular support, but none more so than the Save the Internet Act -- which makes this Administration's (and Mr. McConnell's) flouting of the popular will all the more offensive. Net neutrality guarantees that internet service-providing corporations deliver all files to your computer at the same speed and with the same priority, which does not amount to TEH BIG GUMMINT CONTROLZ TEH INTERNETZ!!!!, but our government preventing big corporations from controlling the internet, so that you can determine where you want to go and what you want to see on the internet, rather than having big corporations force you to watch Miley Cyrus twerking videos before visiting your favorite weblogs (ahem!). Yeah, they haven't tried that yet, but they will; they're not stupid enough to make your freedoms disappear all at once. And this is about your freedom, which will always be more important than some corporation's "freedom" to make more money doing less work.
H.R. 2513, the Corporate Transparency Act, would force corporations to disclose their "beneficial owners" -- that is, the folks who create the corporations and, presumably, benefit financially from their existence -- and that would force banksters, terrorists, tax-evaders, sex traffickers, drug money launderers, and big campaign donors (who all use shell corporations to hide their wrongdoing) out into the light, and if they can't stand the light, well, that's the price of operating too long in the dark. According to a Global Financial Integrity study from 2014, America is the second-easiest nation on Earth to start an anonymous corporation -- behind only Kenya, where there just ain't as much money. Right-wingers will tell you that forcing such transparency would be Big Gummint spying on people -- and where are they when our government actually spies on us? Being outraged at football players kneeling, probably! -- but they would have to explain why revealing the beneficiaries of corporate crime should be guarded by the law.
H.R. 2722, the Securing America's Federal Elections (or SAFE) Act, would mandate voter-verified paper ballots for federal elections, which is a big deal, since (as we saw in Mississippi earlier this year) a lot of electronic voting machines don't let you vote for the candidate for whom you want to vote! H.R. 2722 would also fund state efforts to update their voting systems, which you know some states "forget" to do in their black and brown neighborhoods. And H.R. 2722 would prohibit states and localities from connecting their voting machines to our internet, and that's also a big deal! After all, any fool can see that connecting voting machines to the internet is a profoundly stupid idea. I would say connecting your thermostat or your house lights to the internet is also a profoundly stupid idea, but as bad having your house hacked would be, having our democracy hacked would be even worse. Hacking our democracy has been in the news a lot the past few years, after all -- and not as much as it should have been in the years before that! A lot of times the most advanced technology is not at all the best technology.
Finally (cue cheers from convention crowd!), H.R. 5035, the Television Viewer Protection Act, incorporates most of the TRUE Fees Act, which would not only force big telecom corporations to reveal all the fees they like to hide in your cable or cellphone bill, but would force them to give you formal notice of these fees and would give you the right to cancel your contract with these big telecoms if you don't like the fees they give you. H.R. 5035 would not outlaw forced arbitration agreements in big telecom contracts, as the actual TRUE Fees Act would have done, and that's a backward step, but, as I've said, I don't let the perfect murder the good, and H.R. 5035 is good, because it will keep big telecom corporations from giving you surprises in your cable and cellphone bills. And we will one day bring about comprehensive arbitration reform, because just as the only people standing in the way of fee transparency are the big telecoms that no one likes, the only people standing in our way or arbitration reform are the corporate flunkies whom no one likes. Yeah, weakling politicians "like" them, I suppose, but all I want is a fighting chance.
If you've been reading with an open mind, you probably see that all of these bills would do good things that would improve our laws and our civilization -- and if you attend the ludicrous arguments opposing them, some of which I've touched on above, you'll likely be more convinced of that, not less. Most ludicrous, perhaps, is the reflexive smearing of many or all of these bills as "socialism." You know that words mean things, and you may also suspect that a lot of folks throw the word "socialism" at anything they don't like and hope it sticks because they can't win the argument on the merits. Nonetheless, ask yourself: is securing the vote, and protecting the vote, "socialism" -- or is it merely common sense? Is preventing cruelty to gay, transgender, and immigrant folk "socialism," or is it common sense? Are protecting internet freedom, lowering drug prices, and protecting good Americans with pre-existing health conditions "socialism," or are they merely common sense? I think all of these things are common sense, and I hope that knowledge will steel your spine as you talk to your Senators today.
Good luck, and God bless.