VOX POPULI NEWSLETTER
JANUARY / FEBRUARY 2023
117th Congress passes bills with large bipartisan public support
It’s important to celebrate when elected officials represent the voice of the people and vote accordingly. This past year in Congress, several bills passed that had bipartisan majority support among voters. Three of them were of particular importance, and were passed by both Democratic and Republican Members of Congress.
H.R. 3076 removed the requirement that the U.S. Postal Service pre-fund its employees retirement health benefits for up to 75 years. This requirement was put in place in 2006 and had been putting USPS deep in the red. Eliminating or reducing this requirement had support among 83% of voters nationwide, including 86% of both Republicans and Democrats, per a PPC survey. The bill passed the House and Senate with broad bipartisan support.
S. 1541 reduced the amount that prisons (on the federal level) can charge people in prison for making calls to family or friends. These rates are often substantially higher than ordinary rates. A bipartisan majority of 77% favored this proposal, including 66% of Republicans and 88% of Democrats, per a PPC survey. This bill passed the House by voice vote and the Senate with unanimous consent.
Postal Service & Prison Phone Call Reform
Put yourself in the shoes of Members of Congress who voted on these bills by trying these two policymaking simulations:
- U.S. Postal Service Reform (click here for the full USPS reform survey)
- Prison phone call rates (includes a section on solitary confinement reform)
You’ll get a briefing about the issues, learn the arguments for and against the proposals, and register your views. Once you finish the simulation, you’ll have a chance to send your recommendations to your House and Senate representatives in Congress.
Partnership with Democracy App, Activote
As you may have heard through the grapevine, Voice of the People is partnering with the democracy app, Activote, to bring our innovative policymaking simulations on policy proposals before Congress to its tens of thousands of users. Our simulations are used as daily actions to educate citizens on policy questions before their representatives, and also provide them opportunities to share their views directly with their Members of Congress. Please learn more by checking out Activote and taking some daily actions.
First permanent Citizens Panel on climate change was launched in Belgium
The Belgium deliberative democracy non-profit, G1000, has created the world’s first permanent citizens panel to deliberate on and recommend solutions for addressing climate change. G1000 was created to make Belgium “the most credible, effective and inclusive democracy of Europe [by] making democratic innovations such as sortition and deliberation the new norm in policy-making.” Starting early this year, 100 randomly chosen citizens will convene to start their first deliberation on climate change.
Several other citizen panels have been convened across the world to address climate change, but this one differs in a few notable ways: All others have been one-offs, whereas this will be permanent. There will be multiple rounds, each addressing a different topic which will be chosen by 25 randomly selected citizens. And, whereas other citizen panels had little ability to monitor the progress of their recommendations and hold their governments accountable, G1000’s “will work closely together with the government and administration” to ensure they follow-through with their proposals.
Like other citizen panels, participants will “receive sufficient, clear, and objective information from independent academic experts,” and will also use information provided by stakeholders (e.g. non-profits, think tanks, interest groups)
Social Security: The renewed debate over America’s largest entitlement program
The Social Security program has been back in the news due to negotiations to raise the federal debt ceiling. If Social Security is not reformed, the program is expected to hit a financial wall in 2035, in which benefits for all will have to be cut by about one fifth.
Social Security is a perfect example of when Congress should turn to the people. Debate has stalled for decades, so that no reforms have passed since 1983.
Fortunately, in the few cases where the people have been asked what they would do, there has been bipartisan majority support for several policies that would keep Social Security solvent for decades. The most comprehensive surveys have been conducted by University of Maryland’s Program for Public Consultation, most recently in 2022. They found that Americans are willing to make some difficult decisions, such as raising the retirement age and raising taxes. Now, it is up to Congress to save Social Security, but as UMD’s research shows, the public can help reveal to Members of Congress the way out of this political stalemate.