America's Next Moon Shot: Fixing the Broken Political System

America's Next Moon Shot: Fixing the Broken Political System
AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite
America's Next Moon Shot: Fixing the Broken Political System
AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite
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In 1961, President Kennedy challenged America to put a man on the moon before the decade was done, and we did it.

On Friday, with HR 1 as their rocket ship, House Democrats challenged the Republican-held Senate and White House to another big visionary moment: Join us in repairing and modernizing our representative democracy. This bill is a beacon of hope for citizens sick of legislators dialing for dollars, cozying up to lobbyists, and rigging the system.

It is easy to forget that as presidential candidates in 2016, Sen. Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump could not have been more ideologically different, but both agreed that our political system is grossly unfair and dominated by rich contributors demanding favors. The average American is either forgotten or gets hammered by bigger political powers.

But this bill is the latest move in a campaign that started in the midterms last year, when nearly 50 Democrats won their seats — and the House majority — by campaigning on a reform agenda, rejecting corporate PAC money and fighting back against the culture of corruption in Washington. Now, every declared Democratic 2020 candidate is talking about these issues on the campaign trail because the For the People Act paints an optimistic future for our country where more Americans vote and are incentivized to participate in our great democratic experiment. It is good politics and good policy.

In the past, Republicans and Democrats agreed on core parts of HR 1 that would fix the feckless Federal Election Commission, eliminate dark money, improve transparency, increase the leverage of small-dollar contributions, and help prevent anonymous foreign actors from interfering in our elections. And Democratic leadership should be applauded for thinking bigger and starting a national, comprehensive conversation about repairing our political system. Election eve polling showed that a majority of voters wanted reform to be a top priority for this Congress, and four in five voters supported bipartisan political reform.

The lawmakers who voted for this bill are sending a powerful message that should reverberate around the country: It is time to prioritize the American people over the special interests, to replace fealty to political labels and parties with those politicians that say yes to repairing our political system for the next generation. They are following on the work started by dozens of states and localities that have been strengthening ethics, increasing transparency, and fighting big money.

But now comes the next step in governing — spending time building bipartisan coalitions that will turn this House-passed bill into federal law. The majority leader has pledged to prevent it from moving forward in the Senate, painting it incorrectly as nothing more than a “Democratic Politician Protection Act” and labeling the expanded voting provisions as little other than a paid holiday for federal workers. Both of these are talking points peddled for years by opponents of reform who want the system to stay rigged. I refuse to believe that the late great John McCain was the last of his party in the upper chamber to view political reform as smart politics and policy.

When I served in Congress, I knew who on the other side of the aisle I could approach and work with on legislation I cared deeply about in a bipartisan manner to support efforts to begin programs like Head Start, AmeriCorps and the 9/11 Commission. It is time for Democrats in Congress to do the same because until both parties find common ground, this legislation and others like it will not become law.

At the end of the day, we need to sanitize and clean out the culture of corruption in Washington. The greatest threat to our democracy comes not from foreign enemies outside our borders but from our tendency to retreat into tribalism and not work together to “form a more perfect union.” No one wants the status quo to continue, and 38 percent of Americans support the creation of a third party. Let’s see Democrats and Republicans put country above party.

Tim Roemer is a former Democratic U.S. congressman from Indiana and former U.S. ambassador to India and co-chairman of Issue One’s ReFormers Caucus. 

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