House Problem Solvers are bringing real change to Congress
© Greg Nash

Meaningful reform comes slowly to our tradition-bound Congress. But we’re starting to see the fruits of hard-fought changes wrought this year by the House’s bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus.

These results-oriented lawmakers were troubled to see House leaders (in both parties) sometimes bury legislation that was supported by many rank-and-file members but opposed by the power elite. So they worked diligently for, and eventually achieved, a change in House rules that makes this heavy-handed tactic almost impossible.

House Democrats and Republicans are beginning to use the revised rule, and people are taking notice. It hasn’t yet applied to a highly contentious measure, which would really rattle the Capitol’s walls. But it’s solidly in place for when such an occasion arises, and the Problem Solvers deserve credit for that.

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The new rule keeps top House leaders from squelching any bill that has at least 290 co-sponsors, or two-thirds of the House membership. Such a measure would clearly pass if given a floor vote, but leaders over the years have sometimes smothered such bills for political reasons.

Recently, several bills have been expedited under the new “290” or “consensus calendar” rule. One is the “Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act,” authored by Rep. Zoe LofgrenZoe Ellen LofgrenCoronavirus anxiety spreads across Capitol Hill Congress tiptoes toward remote voting House passes key surveillance bill with deadline looming MORE (D-Calif.). It reduces the visa backlogs for immigrants with particular in-demand skills.

Another is the “Military Surviving Spouses Equity Act,” led by Reps. Joe WilsonAddison (Joe) Graves WilsonThe myth about Puerto Rican statehood that won't go away Overnight Defense: Republicans sound alarm on Taliban deal | Trump speaks with Taliban leader | 19 states sue over border wall funding | Pentagon pushes back on NY Times report about coronavirus response House Republicans sound the alarm on Taliban deal MORE (R-S.C.) and John YarmuthJohn Allen YarmuthHouse Democrats plead with key committee chairman to allow remote voting amid coronavirus pandemic Kentucky Democrat: House lawmakers will not vote remotely during outbreak Dem Congressman: Coronavirus stimulus should be bigger than 2008 MORE (D-Ky.). It would repeal the so-called “widow’s tax,” so spouses of service members who die during active duty will not see their benefits reduced.

The Problem Solvers Caucus Co-Chairs -- Reps. Tom ReedThomas (Tom) W. ReedOvernight Defense: Pentagon curtails more exercises over coronavirus | House passes Iran war powers measure | Rocket attack hits Iraqi base with US troops House passes measure limiting Trump's ability to take military action against Iran This week: Trump's budget lands with a thud on Capitol Hill MORE (R-N.Y.) and Josh GottheimerJoshua (Josh) GottheimerNJ lawmaker tests negative for COVID-19 On The Money: Pelosi announces deal over coronavirus package | Questions remain about Trump's support | Trump declares national emergency | Stocks rally to close out wild week Lawmakers call on IRS to push back tax filing deadline MORE (D-N.J.) – hailed the progress.

“Last January, members of the Problem Solvers Caucus fought for meaningful changes to the House rules, including ensuring that when a bill receives 290 co-sponsors it receives priority consideration on the House floor,” they said in a statement. “Today, the American people are seeing the benefits of those rule changes as common-sense, broadly bipartisan bills are finally receiving the up or down vote they deserve on the floor.”

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Under the new rule, once a bill reaches 290 co-sponsors, a legislative clock begins. If the primary committee of jurisdiction doesn’t report out the bill by the 25th legislative day, it is placed on the new “Consensus Calendar.” House leaders must bring consensus calendars to a floor vote fairly regularly.

Other legislation that has benefitted from the 290 rule includes a measure to ensure continued benefits for first-responders who suffered health problems related to the 9/11 terror attacks.

The new rule’s impact is likely to expand as lawmakers become more familiar with it.

“It’s taking time for people to realize that this is a resource available for them to get bipartisan legislation on to the floor,” Gottheimer told Roll Call. “And now, more and more people are approaching us, the Problem Solvers, and saying, ‘Can we work together to get to 290?’”

House leaders have acknowledged the new rule’s purpose and potency.

“The intent was so you couldn’t just bottle up something,” Majority Leader Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerDC argues it is shortchanged by coronavirus relief bill Lysol, disinfecting wipes and face masks mark coronavirus vote in House The Hill's 12:30 Report: House to vote on .2T stimulus after mad dash to Washington MORE (D-Md.) told Roll Call. “We get that.”

It takes courage to fight for bipartisan achievements in a political environment where many see collaboration as a dirty word. The Problem Solvers deserve our thanks and support bringing about real change that can chip away at our government’s abysmal gridlock and dysfunction.

Margaret White is executive director of No Labels.