EDITORIAL: Bipartisan initiative needs public support
- A newly-formed Congressional group looks to make legislative progress by finding common ground.
- The Problem Solvers Caucus is bipartisan - and productive.
- Hopefully, they can re-normalize the idea of putting country before party for the common good.
Lost amid chronic congressional partisanship, ideologically driven media coverage and near-daily dispatches from a fledgling and often flailing presidential administration is a good-government movement that has actually done some good — and is poised to do much more if its membership can grow broader and stronger.
The new House coalition is called the Problem Solvers Caucus and its 40 members are — get this! — half Democratic, half Republican. In an age where many lawmakers on Capitol Hill don’t even talk with colleagues of the opposite party, the idea of a bipartisan working coalition isn’t just a breath of fresh air, it’s a potential hurricane.
As the name indicates, the group is interested in making legislative progress on issues by finding common ground. Its strategy is simple: If three-quarters of the caucus — including at least half of both Democrats and Republicans — supports a position, the members will vote as one.
“What moves the needle is a bloc of voters, not one individual,” said western New York Rep. Tom Reed, R-Corning, co-leader of the caucus along with Democratic Rep. Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey.
Too often, unfortunately, a congressional “bloc of voters” has coalesced to squelch legislation, rather than advancing it. The House’s conservative Freedom Caucus, for example, all but held former Speaker John Boehner hostage with demands that often derailed compromise, especially in areas such as budget negotiations with the White House.
The Problem Solvers seem to have turned their backs on such recalcitrance.
“I fundamentally believe that you can’t take an all-or-nothing approach to governing,” said Gotthenimer, who speaks of “governing from the common-sense middle.”
That’s a welcome approach. Even better, the Caucus has already put it into practice. After forming in February, the coalition was instrumental in securing approval for the new fiscal year spending plan, averting a potentially crippling government shutdown.
That’s a good start, but it is only a start. As Caucus member Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, the Republican who represents Pennsylvania’s 8th District, said, “now let’s spill that goodwill over into the day-to-day legislating of Congress.”
True, a bipartisan coalition isn’t going to magically solve the problems of divisiveness and partisanship that have corroded progress in Washington — and elsewhere across the country — this past generation.
But neither should the Caucus’s potential for changing partisan dynamics in D.C. be underestimated. After all, co-leader Reed, in characterizing the Caucus, told the Washington Post that “some have classified it as treason.”
Progress is impossible if the two major parties continue to view one another as treasonous enemies, rather than different-minded opponents.
That’s where voters come in. Caucus members like Fitzpatrick, and fellow eastern Pennsylvania House members Republicans Charlie Dent and Ryan Costello, need to hear the voices — and see the votes — of their constituents.
Voters who correctly complain that the government is broken need to stop electing representatives who refuse to fix it.
Whether the coalition can continue to achieve legislative success is almost beside the point. If Republicans and Democrats can model thoughtful bipartisan discussion; if they can re-normalize the idea of putting country before party for the common good; if they can counter the scorched-earth no-compromise mindset of the Freedom Caucus; they will have taken a considerable first step toward repairing a national government that has been far too dysfunctional for far too long.