At this moment the contrast between Democratic and Republican policies could not be starker. The new Democratic majority in the House of Representatives has introduced as its first legislation a far-reaching bill that would make elections fairer by reforming campaign-finance rules, encouraging higher voter turnout, ending partisan gerrymandering, and strengthening election security. It would also expand the reach of and strengthen government ethics rules. Meanwhile Republicans are using their control of the Presidency and the Senate to shut the government down, interrupting many of its life-preserving functions and throwing the lives of thousands of government employees and contractors into chaos, all in order to obtain billions in funding for a political gimmick – a wall on our southern border. One party aims to strengthen our electoral process and make government work more effectively for all, while the other undermines critical government functions in pursuit of short-term political advantage.

House Democrats’ HR 1 will make its way through three committees before coming up for a vote in the full House, probably within the next four weeks. The Democratic House leadership also plans to pass separate, smaller bills, each containing some of the provisions of HR 1. While Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said he will not allow HR 1 to come up for a vote in the Senate, there is hope that he would allow votes on some of the smaller bills containing individual elements of HR 1.

Meanwhile the Republicans’ government shutdown grinds on. Safety inspections for everything from food production to the environment to airline maintenance have been curtailed, fraud investigations and prosecutions are on hold, and scientific studies face gaps in data collection. Businesses that require government licenses or otherwise engage in transactions with the government face serious disruption of their operations. Federally subsidized housing for low-income citizens is in jeopardy and some tenants may face eviction. The list of stalled important projects is long and varied.

About 420,000 government employees are working without pay, while nearly 350,000 more are furloughed without pay at home. These workers face financial uncertainty and in some cases severe hardship. Some cannot afford life-saving medications, some stand to lose their homes or apartments, and some face hunger. While furloughed federal employees will eventually get back pay, federal contractors, including many of the blue-collar workers at federal agencies, will never be compensated for their lost time. As Michael Lewis pointed out in his most recent book, The Fifth Risk, one of our nation’s great strengths has been the skill, integrity, and dedication of its federal workforce. The shutdown has weakened the ability of the government to continue to attract and retain excellent employees, and the damage it inflicts will continue long after it has ended.

The triggering cause for the shutdown is Trump’s sudden insistence on an immediate $5 billion to begin construction of a wall along currently unwalled portions of the southern border. Estimates of the cost of completing the wall range from over $20 billion to $70 billion. Never mind that experts agree that what the southern border really needs is improved surveillance technology and more personnel. Never mind that walls are often ineffective – authorities are finding tunnels under the sections of the border wall already built. Never mind that in the past most Congressional Republicans have not wanted to spend money on a wall, which is why during the two years that Republicans controlled both the House and the Senate they never appropriated these funds. And never mind that Democrats have repeatedly tried to work with Republicans to fund and enhance border security effectively. Trump’s demand for wall money immediately is nothing more than a political stunt gone wrong. Yet Congressional Republicans continue to enable him to hold the nation hostage to his political gamesmanship.

Let our representatives in Washington know that you support responsible and responsive government, and that you oppose using federal employees, federal contractors, beneficiaries of government programs, and citizens with business before the government as bargaining chips in a political game.

E-mail Rep. Don Beyer and tell him:

Thank you for working to pass HR 1, legislation that is much needed. I also urge you to demand that the government be reopened immediately.

E-mail Senator Warner and Senator Kaine and tell them:

I strongly support HR 1 and urge you to work for passage of equivalent legislation or portions of it in the Senate. We need fairer and more secure elections, and stronger ethics rules in government. We also must reopen the government immediately.