Frustrated with Congress’ inaction on issues important to the public, Rep. Raul Ruiz, D-Palm Desert, has introduced legislation that would require lawmakers to vote on bills if enough of the public gets behind them.
On June 28, Ruiz introduced HR 6293, a bill that proposes creating a process for voters to petition both chambers of Congress and force votes on bills that have been introduced, with or without the sanction of party leaders.
“The Speaker of the House and the Majority Leader in the Senate alone decide which bills we vote on, even despite broad Republican and Democratic support for issues like DACA and background checks for people who purchase guns,” he said.
Members of the U.S. House of Representatives have introduced more than 5,000 bills this session. They’ve only sent about 700, or one out of every seven, on to the Senate. Of the 66 bills Ruiz has introduced in his five years as Congressman, only four have been voted on and passed.
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With HR 6293, Ruiz hopes to loosen the gridlock that has stopped Congress from voting on measures he believes enjoy widespread support from Americans in both parties. He was particular outraged, he said, that under Speaker Paul Ryan, Congress has not yet passed a bill establishing a path to citizenship for DACA recipients, immigrants who arrived in the United States as children without documentation and who have lived and worked in the country for the majority of their lives.
“You have Republicans and Democrats who agree there should be a narrow fix for Dreamers,” he said, “and we should get them on a path to citizenship.”
Ruiz said the Dream Act had bipartisan support and could have passed in the House, but it was never voted on because, “Speaker (Paul) Ryan, alone, decided not to bring it up for a vote.”
Under HR 6293, in order to force Congress to vote on such issues, petitioners would need to gather 5 million signatures and recruit either 11 Senators or 50 members of the House to support the proposed legislation. Congress would then have to vote regardless of what party leaders want.
Ruiz’s vocal frustration with Congressional leadership contrasts with how Kimberlin Brown Pelzer, his Republican opponent in the November midterms, has depicted him. In her campaign materials, Brown Pelzer has attacked Ruiz for what she says are connections to well-funded Democratic leadership.
“Ruiz has always been a guaranteed vote for Nancy Pelosi,” she wrote in a post-primary election email. “Ruiz has been there for Pelosi and she will be there for him with millions of dollars this fall.”
The Congressman expects resistance to the bill, but still believes the idea has bipartisan appeal, he said.
“This may not be a popular bill for leadership in either party, but I’m not [in Congress] to work for leadership in any party,” he said. “Frustration with the hyper-partisan Congressional dysfunction is palpable in the air and a lot of constituents – Republicans and Democrats – are just fed up with the gridlock, and quite frankly, so am I.”
Petition-driven lawmaking is controversial among both Democrats and Republicans, particularly in California. The state’s abnormal proposition system has turned signature gathering into an industry; special-interest groups with financial backing from specific sectors or wealthy individuals introduce many of the initiatives that make it on the California ballot each year, and critics say propositions’ authors frequently craft language that misleads voters as to the outcomes that comes from a “yes” or “no” vote.
“There are some very highly sophisticated and well-funded operations that can push their agendas,” Ruiz said. “But the point here is that [the bill] will empower the people so if you’re extreme or you’re moderate or you’re centrist, it will empower you to come up with common-sense legislation that can potentially pass the House.”
Ruiz acknowledged that his idea could empower the left-wing of the Democratic Party or the right-wing of the Republican Party if the proposed petition system is co-opted by either, but noted key differences between his proposed system and what’s in place in California.
“The difference between my bill and the propositions is that my bill would give Congress and the Senate the opportunity to vote on important issues whereas the propositions in the state are basically ballot initiatives to create law,” he explained.