November 14th, 2020 by Zachary Shahan
We have a big special election coming up in Georgia in January, an election that will decide who represents Georgia in the US Senate. Both senators for the State of Georgia will need to be chosen. Since these races will determine who is in control of the US Senate in the coming two years, they are getting national (or international) attention and will probably pull in more political donations than any US Senate races in history. One matter that has been bugging me from time to time when it comes to this race and others is that I’m not actually sure why so many working class people vote for Republicans. As a result, I decided to look very closely at what is done (and not done) in Congress by the two parties.
The Republican Party has pushed forward one major policy since Donald Trump has taken office — tax cuts for rich people and corporations. Working class people have seen practically no benefit from the legislation. Meanwhile, those tax cuts have led to a historically high US budget deficit (we owe an enormous amount of money). The other thing the party nearly did was repeal the Affordable Care Act, but that was stopped by Senator John McCain (and Democrats) before he passed away.
Of course, there are various non-policies the Republican Party routinely focuses on — “owning the libs,” letting Donald Trump do whatever he pleases in the White House (including attacks on the foundations of our democracy), and talking on Fox News about whatever the topic of the day is. But I feel like people should care more about what members of Congress do in office rather than what they tweet or say on TV. So, I decided to run through the legislation the Republican-controlled US Senate has passed or ignored.
116th United States Congress
Let’s look at what the current version of Congress has done, including several bills the House of Representatives passed and the Senate blocked.
Passed in House (Led By Democrats), Ignored in Senate (Led By Republicans)
- For The People Act of 2019 (H.R. 1, 2019) “is a bill introduced and passed in the United States House of Representatives to expand voting rights, limit partisan gerrymandering, strengthen ethics rules, and limit the influence of private donor money in politics.” Apparently, Republicans in the Senate do not have an interest in expanding voting rights, getting big money out of politics, or creating voting districts in a fair and objective way.
- Moving Forward Act (H.R. 2, 2019) “addresses provisions related to federal-aid highway, transit, highway safety, motor carrier, research, hazardous materials, and rail programs of the Department of Transportation (DOT).” More specifically, here are several things the bill would do:
- extends FY2020 enacted levels through FY2021 for federal-aid highway, transit, and safety programs;
- reauthorizes for FY2022-FY2025 several surface transportation programs, including the federal-aid highway program, transit programs, highway safety, motor carrier safety, and rail programs;
- addresses climate change, including strategies to reduce the climate change impacts of the surface transportation system and conduct a vulnerability assessment to identify opportunities to enhance the resilience of the surface transportation system and ensure the efficient use of federal resources;
- revises Buy America procurement requirements for highways, mass transit, and rail;
- establishes a rebuild rural grant program to improve the safety, state of good repair, and connectivity of transportation infrastructure in rural communities;
- implements new safety requirements across all transportation modes; and
- directs DOT to establish a pilot program to demonstrate a national motor vehicle per-mile user fee to restore and maintain the long-term solvency of the Highway Trust Fund and achieve and maintain a state of good repair in the surface transportation system.
- Elijah E. Cummings Lower Drug Costs Now Act (H.R. 3, 2019) “establishes several programs and requirements relating to the prices of prescription drugs, health care coverage and costs, and public health.” Basically, the point is to bring down healthcare costs in the USA.
- Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2019 (H.R. 4, 2019) “establishes new criteria for determining which states and political subdivisions must obtain preclearance before changes to voting practices in these areas may take effect. (Preclearance is the process of receiving preapproval from the Department of Justice or the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia before making legal changes that would affect voting rights.)”
- Equality Act (H.R. 5, 2019) “prohibits discrimination based on sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity in a wide variety of areas including public accommodations and facilities, education, federal funding, employment, housing, credit, and the jury system. Specifically, the bill defines and includes sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity among the prohibited categories of discrimination or segregation.”
- American Dream and Promise Act (H.R. 6, 2019) “cancels and prohibits removal proceedings against certain aliens and provides such aliens with a path toward permanent resident status. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) or the Department of Justice (DOJ) shall cancel removal proceedings against certain aliens who entered the United States as minors and grant such aliens conditional permanent residence status for 10 years. The bill imposes various qualification requirements, such as the alien being continuously physically present in the United States and being enrolled in or having completed certain educational programs. DHS shall establish streamlined procedures to apply for conditional permanent residence for aliens who received Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status and were not disqualified for renewal.”
- Paycheck Fairness Act (H.R. 7, 2019) “addresses wage discrimination on the basis of sex. It amends equal pay provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 to (1) restrict the use of the bona fide factor defense to wage discrimination claims, (2) enhance nonretaliation prohibitions, (3) make it unlawful to require an employee to sign a contract or waiver prohibiting the employee from disclosing information about the employee’s wages, and (4) increase civil penalties for violations of equal pay provisions.”
- Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2019 (H.R. 7, 2019) “establishes new background check requirements for firearm transfers between private parties (i.e., unlicensed individuals). Specifically, it prohibits a firearm transfer between private parties unless a licensed gun dealer, manufacturer, or importer first takes possession of the firearm to conduct a background check. The prohibition does not apply to certain firearm transfers, such as a gift between spouses in good faith.”
- Climate Action Now Act (H.R. 9, 2019) “requires the President to develop and update annually a plan for the United States to meet its nationally determined contribution under the Paris Agreement on climate change.
- (Sec. 3) In addition, the bill prohibits federal funds from being used to withdraw from the agreement.
- (Sec. 4) The bill outlines what must be included in the plan, including descriptions of steps to (1) cut greenhouse gas emissions by 26%–28% below 2005 levels by 2025, and (2) confirm that other parties to the agreement with major economies are fulfilling their announced contributions. The President must seek and publish comments from the public when submitting and updating the plan.
- (Sec. 5) Within six months, the President must report on the effect of the Paris Agreement on clean energy job development in rural communities.
- (Sec. 6) Within six months, the President must also contract with the National Academy of Sciences to report on the potential impacts of a withdrawal by the United States from the agreement on the global economic competitiveness of the U.S. economy and on U.S. workers.
- (Sec. 8) Within one year, the Government Accountability Office must study and report on the impact of the plan on U.S. territories.”
- Washington, D.C. Admission Act (H.R. 51, 2019) “admits certain portions of Washington, DC as the 51st state. The bill defines state as the State of Washington, Douglass Commonwealth.”
- George Floyd Justice in Policing Act (H.R. 7120, 2019) “addresses a wide range of policies and issues regarding policing practices and law enforcement accountability. It includes measures to increase accountability for law enforcement misconduct, to enhance transparency and data collection, and to eliminate discriminatory policing practices.”
- Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2019 (H.R. 1585, 2019) “modifies and reauthorizes through FY2024 programs and activities under the Violence Against Women Act that seek to prevent and respond to domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence, and stalking.”
- Strengthening Health Care and Lowering Prescription Drug Costs Act (H.R. 987, 2019) “requires the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to conduct outreach and educational activities regarding federally-facilitated exchanges (i.e., health insurance exchanges that are established and operated within states by HHS). The activities must inform potential enrollees of the availability of coverage and related financial assistance under the exchanges and must be provided in culturally and linguistically appropriate formats.”
- Save the Internet Act of 2019 (H.R. 1644, 2019) “would rescind the 2017 FCC order to repeal the 2015 Open Internet Order, codify the 2015 Open Internet Order into law, and prevent the FCC from making any similar changes baring any further change in law. Republican lawmakers indicated they felt this was too extreme and were unlikely to give support to the bill. The bill cleared the House on a 232-190 vote on April 10, 2019, but both leaders in the Republican-controlled Senate and President Trump indicated they would stop the bill’s passage.“
- Stopping Harmful Interference in Elections for a Lasting Democracy Act (H.R. 4617, 2019) “establishes a duty to report election interference from foreign entities, applies existing campaign advertising requirements to online advertisements, and generally limits political spending and election interference by foreign entities.”
- Secure 5G and Beyond Act of 2020 “requires the President to develop a strategy to ensure the security of next generation mobile telecommunications systems and infrastructure in the US; and assist allies and strategic partners in maximizing the security of next generation mobile telecommunications systems and infrastructure.”
So, basically, Democrats in the House of Representatives passed legislation to:
- get big money out of politics,
- make voting more fair and secure (ironically),
- fund various transportation infrastructure programs (including for transportation infrastructure in rural communities),
- lower prescription drug prices and health care costs,
- provide Dreams (immigrants brought to the US as kids) a path to citizenship,
- improve background checks on gun purchases,
- help shift the US toward net neutrality,
- set the requirement that each US President create a climate action plan (including “report on the effect of the Paris Agreement on clean energy job development in rural communities,” where many clean energy jobs are expected to be created),
- improve accountability for law enforcement misconduct,
- improve policies created to “prevent and respond to domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence, and stalking,”
- help prevent foreign interference in US elections.
Republicans in the Senate would not even lift a finger to get any of the above passed into law.
Passed in the House AND the Senate
In the 116th United States Congress, a few pieces of legislation were passed by both the House and the Senate and signed by President Trump. There were also a couple of bills passed by Congress but then vetoed by President Trump.
- The John D. Dingell Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act, which “designated more than 1,300,000 acres (5,300 km2) of wilderness area, expanded several national parks and other areas of the National Park System, and established four new national monuments while redesignating others. Other provisions included making the Land and Water Conservation Fund permanent, protecting a number of rivers and historic sites, and withdrawing land near Yellowstone National Park and North Cascades National Park from mining.” John Dingell was a member of the United States House of Representatives from 1955 until 2015, making him the longest serving Congressman in history before his death.
- The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act or the CARES Act, which addresses economic impacts of, and otherwise responds to, the COVID-19 (coronavirus) outbreak. The bill authorizes emergency loans to distressed businesses, including air carriers, and suspends certain aviation excise taxes. … The bill also provides funding for $1,200 tax rebates to individuals, with additional $500 payments per qualifying child. The rebate begins phasing out when incomes exceed $75,000 (or $150,000 for joint filers). The bill establishes limits on requirements for employers to provide paid leave.”
- The Secure 5G and Beyond Act of 2020 “This bill requires the President, in consultation with relevant federal agencies, to develop a strategy to secure and protect U.S. fifth and future generations (5G) systems and infrastructure. Such strategy, to be known as the National Strategy to Secure 5G and Next Generation Wireless Communications, shall (1) ensure the security of 5G wireless communications systems and infrastructure within the United States; (2) assist mutual defense treaty allies, strategic partners, and other countries in maximizing the security of 5G systems and infrastructure; and (3) protect the competitiveness of U.S. companies, privacy of U.S. consumers, and integrity of standards-setting bodies.”
There were also two items that both chambers of Congress passed but Donald Trump vetoed. The first was a resolution regarding the National Emergency Concerning the Southern Border of the United States, in which both arms of Congress voted to terminate Trump’s resolution, but Trump vetoed that and the US Senate didn’t provide enough votes to overturn the veto.
The second item was “A joint resolution to direct the removal of United States Armed Forces from hostilities in the Republic of Yemen that have not been authorized by Congress. (S.J.Res. 7, Vetoed April 16, 2019).” Trump vetoed the resolution.
Overall, Democrats in the US Congress have passed legislation aimed at lowering health care costs, creating clean energy jobs, improving voting security, funding and improving our transportation infrastructure, and securing our election process from outside influence, among other things.
Republicans have passed tax cuts for the super wealthy and nearly repealed the Affordable Car Act, while basically ignoring the rest of those matters.
Georgia, what side do you want to be on?
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