President Biden should restate his commitment to reforming democracy in his first joint address to Congress
By Eva Gonzalez
The president’s annual joint address to Congress is an American tradition – a seminal moment when the president shares their ideas on solving the nation’s problems and sets course for what must be accomplished in the year ahead.
As he makes his first annual address to the nation, President Joe Biden confronts a truly historic set of challenges – from a global pandemic and its economic devastation, to the moral imperative to advance racial justice, boldly tackle the climate crisis and restore democratic norms in the wake of a violent insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.
To make meaningful progress on these urgent, intersecting crises, Biden must chart a clear path forward that will restore our faith in democracy. This starts by championing the For the People Act (S.1) during his first State of the Union address and urging its passage.
S.1 is an ambitious, once-in-a-generation democracy reform package. It will begin to transform our broken democracy into one where all voices are heard, where the public interest – not special interests — guide decision-making, and where the people can put faith in their leaders to do the right thing for the country.
Here’s why we’re all in for S.1, and why we’re encouraging President Biden to voice his support during his address to the nation:
#1: It Protects Our Right to Vote
The 2020 election laid bare the inequities in our electoral system. Long lines, broken voting machines, and too many eligible voters turned away from the polls without explanation – a burden felt disproportionately by Black and Brown voters who have long faced unjust barriers to the ballot box.
If S.1 isn’t passed into law this year, these disparities could get even worse. Right now, there are over 300 new voter suppression bills moving through state legislatures in Georgia, Arizona and 45 other states. If passed, they will make it harder to vote, especially for communities of color.
In addition to nearly 20 other critical electoral reforms, S.1 would enact automatic voter registration and same-day voter registration, allow everyone the right to vote-by-mail in federal elections, prevent voter purges that kick eligible voters off the registration rolls, and expand pre-registration for future voters 17-years-old and older.
#2: It Puts an End to Racial and Partisan Gerrymandering
Voters should choose their politicians, not the other way around. But with extreme gerrymandering, partisan legislatures can rig the game in their own favor by drawing voting districts that protect their majority and erode the democratic principle of “one person, one vote.”
S.1 explicitly outlaws partisan gerrymandering. It also requires states to use independent redistricting commissions instead of allowing partisan legislatures to draw congressional maps. With many state legislatures drawing new maps this year, the need to outlaw partisan gerrymandering could not be more urgent.
#3: It Gets Big Money Out of Politics
The U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens’ United decision was a disaster for our democracy. Politicians should not be bought by special interests; they should be accountable to We the People. If passed, S.1 will return democracy to the people by reforming the campaign finance system and fixing our broken Federal Election Commission.
S.1 would also shine a light on “dark money” groups that seek to influence our elections. It would also make it easier for everyday people – untethered to special interest cash – to run for office by establishing a small-donor matching system for congressional elections.
#4: It Holds Government Accountable
During the Trump administration, government corruption was on full display. From the pandemic to the consequent economic crisis, the interests of wealthy corporations and special interests have prevailed over the needs of everyday Americans.
S.1 takes the critical steps toward making our government more honest, ethical, and accountable to the public. It requires presidential candidates release ten years of tax returns, prohibits members of Congress from serving on corporate boards, creates a code of ethics for the Supreme Court, and expands foreign and domestic lobbyist registration and reporting laws.
#5: It Has Overwhelming Public Support
Democracy isn’t working for everyday people, so it’s no surprise that two-thirds of Americans support the For The People Act. Biden should channel this momentum, voice his ongoing support for S.1 during his State of the Union Address and encourage the Senate to pass it swiftly.
S.1 would create a strong foundation for the passage of many popular progressive policies that advance racial justice, fight climate change and improve the lives of everyday Americans. If the president wants to ensure that his next four years are marked by action and progress, the For the People Act is an absolute must.
What Can You Do to Help Pass S.1?
The For the People Act was introduced by Representative John Sarbanes (D-MD)and was swiftly passed in the House of Representatives in March. The bill was also introduced in the Senate by Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR), and we expect a vote in the coming months.
We need President Joe Biden to continue to voice his support for democracy reform ahead of the Senate vote. Sign our petition to President Biden calling on him to declare his support for the For The People Act during his first joint address to Congress.