Mariel Saez 202-225-3130
WASHINGTON, DC – House Democratic Whip Steny H. Hoyer (MD) delivered a speech this morning on how to renew the American people’s faith in government. The speech, hosted by Georgetown University Law Center, The McCourt School of Public Policy, and The Beeck Center for Social Impact and Innovation, addressed the loss of confidence in government and explored ways Congress can restore the American people’s faith and trust that government can work effectively on their behalf. Below are his remarks as prepared for delivery:
“Thank you, Dean Treanor and Sonal for that welcome and introduction. I’d like to thank Georgetown University Law Center, the Beeck Center for Social Impact and Innovation, and the McCourt School of Public Policy for hosting me today.
“I’m glad to be addressing you at Georgetown. My time at Georgetown Law was an enriching and, as I recall, anxiety-provoking experience. While studying the law I also had the opportunity to see how our nation’s laws are made up close as a congressional staffer. I had the chance to observe Congress at work at a time when its Members regularly came together across the aisle to get things done. And our people had faith that the government they elected was doing its job on their behalf.
“In a recent piece in the Washington Post, columnist Robert Samuelson wrote: “A Pew poll late last year found that only 19% of people trust the government all or most of the time. It was not always so. In 1964, fully 77% of Americans answered the question positively…. Politics and government seem broken. There is a palpable sense of betrayal. Voters are said to be angry. The sour climate suggests people believe the country isn’t living up to its potential or, worse, the potential is declining.”
“As I’ve traveled across the country, meeting with workers, business owners, and community leaders, I’ve heard the same sentiment. Too many of our people believe that the American Dream is slipping away. They feel that all the hard work they’ve put in over the years won’t be enough to ensure that their children have more opportunities and a better life.
“Americans are asking their government to listen, to help, to lead. Unfortunately, rational responses are too often drowned out by a cacophony of partisan confrontation. As a result, they’ve come to see government not as an ally to help them seize the opportunities our changing economy presents. Instead, it’s seen as a roadblock, standing in the way and making it harder for the American people to build new opportunities together.
“In the past, when confronted with challenges like the ones we face today, Americans would use our democracy to demand action and hold their leaders accountable. Today, however, ordinary Americans feel left out.
“They watch as unrestricted money from wealthy donors and shadow groups crowd out their voices and as super PACs pour millions of undisclosed dollars from opaque interests into attack ads that blanket TV, radio, and the web. They see the victories of the Civil Rights Movement unraveling, as new barriers to voting and registration are imposed. They’re frustrated when they see how our Congressional districts are drawn.
“All of these problems have resulted in a larger one: a Republican Congress that has become paralyzed by partisanship and is unable to respond to those it serves. But the dysfunction of the legislative branch, unfortunately, damages the other two branches as well.
“Senate Republicans’ partisan obstruction of the process to fill the current Supreme Court vacancy – and their denial of confirmation votes for dozens of nominees to lower courts too – has diminished the effectiveness and efficiency of our judicial branch. And when it comes to the executive branch, not only have Republicans blocked the Administration’s nominees and denied critical funding to agencies, but in doing so they have kept those agencies from being able to engage in the kind of long-term thinking and planning needed to stay innovative and achieve significant results.
“Washington is too often dysfunctional, and Americans are angry about it – as they should be. We need to give our people hope that we can fix what’s broken in Washington – that we can restore their faith in Congress, renew their faith in government to be an institution that plays a positive role in their lives.
“The question, though, is: how do we do it?
“When House Democrats held hearings on our new Make It In America plan, we received feedback from Sonal and others who testified that we can’t fully tap into our economic opportunities if we don’t make sure government works too. Today, I’m going to lay out proposals in four major areas to get government working again: campaign finance reform, voting rights, redistricting reform, and government technology.
“First, we need campaign finance reform.
“In a democracy, every voice should be heard. However, since the Citizens United decision, the wealthiest individuals and corporations have spent billions to ensure that their voices drown out all others. We need to overturn Citizens United and require super PACs to disclose their donors. Rep. Chris Van Hollen has been leading an effort in the House to address this challenge.
“At the same time, we ought to place reasonable limits on the amount one can donate to campaigns and encourage small contribution funding. President Obama and Sen. Sanders showed us the power millions of small donors can have when they band together. We need to try replicating this type of wide-spread small-donor participation. That is real, sustainable campaign finance reform.
“Rep. John Sarbanes is taking the lead in this area and on the issue of public financing, which ought to be part of the discussion as well. He and other House Democrats are working hard to craft reforms that will make our campaign finance system more transparent and reduce the influence of a small number of wealthy donors and special interests.
“I also believe that campaign finance reform will yield additional benefits. As someone who has been involved for years in recruiting candidates to run for Congress, I know the fundraising burden discourages many of the most talented Americans from stepping up to serve in elected office. By lessening that burden, we will attract a greater diversity of candidates. Additionally, it will provide incumbents with more time to listen to their constituents, craft legislation, and build relationships with one another. Perhaps most importantly, restoring reasonable limits and complete transparency to the fundraising process will, I hope, begin to renew the trust citizens have that their voices are being heard.
“Second, every American who is eligible to vote should be able to vote. Period.
“Throughout our history, too many people lost their lives to secure access to the ballot box for any eligible voter to be turned away. We must enact legislation to modernize our voting system, building on the progress we made during the Civil Rights Movement and when we passed the Help America Vote Act in 2002, which I authored. Such modernization ought to include automatic voter registration, expanded early voting, options to vote by mail and on weekends, and tools to combat voter suppression. But first and foremost, we need to restore the protections of the Voting Rights Act that were weakened by the Supreme Court in 2013.
“Third, we need to reform the Congressional redistricting process.
“Congress has become too polarized, with too many “safe” seats on both sides of the aisle. Today, in most parts of the country, congressional district boundaries are drawn by the politicians themselves. I know – I’ve done it. We all have, and I understand that neither party wants to be the first to step away from doing so, leaving itself vulnerable to the other. That’s why we need a national solution that applies the same rules to everyone. This system isn’t going to end unless both parties work to end it together. So let’s move to a system of national redistricting standards that takes partisanship out of the equation. I’ve cosponsored bills by Reps. Zoe Lofgren and Jim Cooper that would do so.
“Fourth, we need to develop a technologically modern and inclusive system of civic engagement.
“Americans are now accustomed to accessing information, products, and services quickly and reliably online from private companies. But when it comes to government, nobody expects the same quality, speed, or responsiveness. That needs to change.
“For this reason, I’ve introduced the Information Technology Modernization Act. My bipartisan bill would launch an innovative and cost-saving Information Technology Modernization Fund to modernize government technology and strengthen cybersecurity. With a one-time, $3 billion investment in the Fund, we could finance $12 billion in technology upgrade projects over the first ten years. Imagine how much more efficient and effective our government would be if government technology systems made use of the same best practices as the private sector.
“We need to make sure that federal departments and agencies are as connected and adaptive as possible. And we need to make certain they are protected against cyber threats. Americans won’t trust government to help if they don’t trust its systems to protect their private data.
“But it goes beyond investing in better technology infrastructure. One of the ideas we heard during the Make It In America hearings, from Rep. Derek Kilmer, was for the General Services Administration to create a site where citizens could go online to rate and review agencies and offices. Rep. Ron Kind has been instrumental in this effort. Think of it as a “Yelp” for government. And Rep. Suzan DelBene has introduced legislation to authorize the U.S. Digital Service for ten years. Along with the innovative 18-F Group, it has been at the forefront of introducing the latest advances from Silicon Valley into government tech.
“We’re already working on technology reforms for the legislative branch. I’ve been proud to lead a bipartisan effort, along with Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, to improve the House’s use of technology. We’ve hosted “hackathons,” where we’ve invited programmers, coders, and tech companies to come to Capitol Hill and devise new ways to use legislative data and share it with the American people. And last year, my office unveiled “Whip Watch,” an innovative app to provide live updates on House Floor action.
“In addition to these four major steps, there are a host of other things we could do to improve the way our government works.
“One of them is ending partisan obstruction of nominations by the Senate. It’s becoming impossible to confirm even routine executive branch nominations, paralyzing agencies that provide services to the American people. No single senator ought to be able to put a “hold” on a nomination for months on end, precluding the will of the majority. When courts or agencies are shorthanded, particularly at the leadership level, government can’t serve the people as well as it ought to.
“And another idea that has been raised, which admittedly may not be very popular, is bringing back so-called earmarks, along with the reforms Democrats made to make them fully transparent. Members know far better than Administration officials what the immediate and long-term needs of their districts are, which is why our Founders gave Congress the “power of the purse” to determine budget priorities. I believe Republicans’ decision to eliminate earmarks altogether has proven unwise. Last month, the Houston Chronical wrote in an editorial: “…a Congress without earmarks doesn’t spend less money. It just means that the executive branch has more control over taxpayer dollars.” Let’s put the people’s representatives back in control as our Founders intended.
“Those are just two examples of additional changes that could complement the four major reforms for which I am calling. House Democrats are ready to push for reforms in all four of the areas I outlined, and our candidates around the country are running to implement them next year. But we can’t do it alone.
“I realize that some Republicans are happy to obstruct and sow dysfunction whenever they can because they believe that a broken government will eventually become a smaller one. They capitalize on voters’ frustrations that their government doesn’t seem to work for them anymore, but what they offer is more obstruction that will only deepen those frustrations and further alienate Americans from their government. The result is a dangerous cycle of cynicism, gridlock, and a declining respect for – and confidence in – our institutions of government.
“We need Republicans who care deeply about making government work to join us in breaking that cycle. And the American people need to reaffirm the demand that their leaders and the government serving them ought to be an expression of what makes this country great.
“We can begin by remembering that civility and compromise are essential in our republic. Some have tried to dismiss civility as political correctness – to suggest that if you are respectful to those who disagree with you, somehow that makes you weak. That if you compromise, it means you are unprincipled. But our nation deserves to be led by those who understand that compromise is not antithetical to principle, that civility is one of our system’s greatest strengths.
“If our voters support candidates who believe compromise is essential, and reject those who hold otherwise, we will be better able to meet the challenges that new threats and changes to the global economy present.
“If we can make government as responsive to citizens as our best online businesses are to their consumers, we can renew the faith our people once had that government is here to help them improve their lives.
“If we can ensure that every voice is heard and that government works, we’ll be a major step closer to ensuring that all our people can Make It In America. More importantly, though, it will ensure that America can make it once again – as a beacon to the world of a nation whose government is truly by, of, and for the people it serves.”