VESTAL, NY (WSKG) – Representative Tom Reed has touted his leadership in a Congressional group called the Problem Solvers Caucus. It’s got just shy of 50 House members – half Democrats, half Republicans. They say their goal is to come up with a “common sense approach to solve our nation’s toughest issues.”
So far, that’s not happening, but it could happen soon.
They kickstarted five years ago, but “the Problem Solvers Caucus has yet to solve a significant problem,” said Mike DeBonis, Congressional reporter with the Washington Post.
“They’ve been around. They’ve been this group of centrist lawmakers in both parties and they’ve sort of gotten involved in a number of debates including immigration, including the healthcare mess last year,” said DeBonis.
“But, there’s no particular issue you could point to and say, ‘hey, the Problem Solvers got involved and it all got figured out.'”
New rules about rules
They may not boast a bumper crop of bills, but if the Problem Solvers do decide to put forth proposals, they’ve got a plan to change the rules about how to get those bills debated.
New rules about rules? Yeah, it sounds pretty bureaucratic. But, it’s important stuff.
Read more context on the changes below and the working draft of their proposal at the bottom of the page.
Congressman Reed says, over the years, committees have controlled less and less, while the leadership of the majority party and the executive branch has controlled more and more. Leadership decides what bills go up for debate, if at all.
“We’re trying to take that power from those leadership offices and drive it back to the membership and to the committee process,” said Reed, speaking at a Constitution Day event at Houghton College. “It typically was a much more committee-driven, member driven organization than what it was today (sic).”
However, if these rules are not accepted, Reed and a handful of other representatives have a plan.
“I am withholding my support for a Speaker on the floor of the House,” said Reed. “What I will only support is a candidate who has embraced these rule reforms for the institution.”
But, is Reed likely to actually withhold support for a House Speaker? Are these proposals likely to get passed?
“Well, that’s a good question,” said DeBonis.
A lot of the members of the Problem Solvers are in difficult re-election battles, he said, particularly the Republicans, so it could be a case of big talkers.
“Using their leverage in a Speaker vote, that could be very meaningful, especially if it’s a very close majority and that could force some concessions,” said DeBonis.
“But, it’s easy to talk a big game before an election, before these folks are going to come back to Washington and be under tremendous pressure from their party leadership to fall in line and vote for whoever their Speaker nominee that the caucus picks is going to be.”
Tremendous pressure from the party meaning leadership could threaten them with crummy committee assignments or withholding money for their re-election campaigns, according to Jim Twombly, political science professor at Elmira College.
Incremental, but meaningful: a closer look at the proposal
The Problem Solvers have proposed a dozen changes. One would require a bill be forced into consideration if it has big, bipartisan majority support (Goal II).
“That could lead to, for instance, action on things like immigration… where there’s a big bipartisan consensus that never seems to come up because the majority party leadership doesn’t want to do it, so that would be meaningful,” said DeBonis.
Meaningful, but he also calls these changes incremental.
Another proposal from the Problem Solvers addresses the “Motion to Vacate the Chair,” where any House member can call for an up or down vote on the Speaker (Goal I). Their proposal would make it harder to vote out a Speaker.
“That really became an issue about three years ago in 2015, when the Freedom Caucus had just gotten started, this group of very hard-right members who weren’t happy with the Speaker at the time, John Boehner,” said DeBonis.
“They basically threatened him to say, ‘we’re gonna call a vote on you and we don’t think you’d get a majority’ and that allowed them to hijack the whole process. It eventually led to Boehner’s resignation.”
Reed and other members of the Problem Solvers Caucus say they hope these proposals will decrease the likelihood of a House Speaker getting “held hostage,” decrease the power of party leadership, and increase the power of rank and file members. But again, stay tuned for whether they’ll pass.
“These rules will have a very difficult time passing because the very people who they’re designed to circumvent have to rule on this proposed packet of changes,” said Twombly.
“It’s going to be kind of hard to promote a package of rules changes that those currently in power will see as an attempt to take away some of their power.”
That being said, even if this set of proposals doesn’t get passed, Twombly said, they’ve started an important conversation.
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