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How Congress can move beyond the Freedom Caucus

There has been a great deal of talk about and attention paid to the Freedom Caucus. This group of 40 or so Republicans in the House seems to be controlling not only the agenda of that body, but the future of the country. The actual number of members is uncertain. Their names are not all known. They seem to like it that way.

This shadowy and secretive assemblage is responsible for pushing Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) out of the Speakership and doesn’t seem to care one bit if Congress refuses to lift the debt ceiling before Nov. 3 and the country goes into default.

{mosads}There is another group of House Republicans who are proud to be called moderates. The members of the Republican Main Street Partnership can tell you how many members they have — 69 (four senators [Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, Susan Collins of Maine, Mark Kirk of Illinois and John McCain of Arizona] and 65 representatives) — and they are interested in being responsible and actually governing. Former Rep. Steve LaTourette (R-Ohio) is their president and CEO.

LaTourette says all the right things and genuinely seeks to put them into practice. In an interview, he describes his group in a refreshingly candid way: “We are who you think we are.” By that he means sensible “people from the mid-Atlantic and Midwestern states” who believe in the “art of legislating.” They don’t approve of “guerilla theater” and they know in life or in Congress you should not expect to get “100 percent of what you want.”

LaTourette goes on to say that his members have no intention of voting for some “Freedom Caucus joker” for Speaker. He sums up the ultimate goal of the Freedom Caucus: “to take the team down.” This clear language should be praised and applauded. It’s heartening to know that there are GOP legislators who are adults.

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) has announced that he will run for Speaker if his party will change from “being an opposition party to being a proposition party.” He admits that “we have become the problem,” and best of all, he will not accede to preconditions of “one group.” That one group is the Freedom Caucus.

What Ryan is attempting to do is what Boehner neither had the guts or ability to do: take on the obstructionist, destructive and nihilistic array of extremist right-wingers in his own party. Regardless of what Freedom Caucus members now say they are going to do, their support should not be a precondition for his assuming the Speakership.

His words to that group of know-nothings is direct, tough and necessary. What Ryan needs to do is cobble together the necessary number to win. I have suggested before that Democrats could be part of the solution — some could break away from the customary ways of the past and supply the necessary votes to make Ryan the next Speaker. These independent-minded Democrats would not be traitors to their party, but patriots. They would be putting country before party. It seems to me that the Speaker is profoundly a national position; he or she is second-in-line to become president. Once someone assumes that office, they assume a national responsibility. They should transcend the party label.

If the election for Speaker was transformed in this way, then just maybe the mood and temper of the Congress might change. A bipartisan Speaker could lead to more bipartisan legislation and more bipartisan solutions. Right now, any anonymous group of 40 individuals can destroy democracy and productive government. Let’s put a permanent end to this corrosive and divisive dynamic and do away with party solidarity for the true and lasting benefit to the country.

I know that for many Democrats, this will be very difficult. But by being “profiles in courage,” a new precedent will emerge. This new precedent will help Congress become not just a collection of warring factions, but a deliberative body that truly wants to get things done.

The cynicism and polarization that are so pervasive might start to diminish, and a much more optimistic mood and way of doing things might get a chance to develop. We have to abandon our old way of operating. We are stalled and near paralysis. Renouncing old habits could be the first step.

Plotkin is a political analyst, a contributor to the BBC on American politics and a columnist for The Georgetowner.

Tags Freedom Caucus Paul Ryan Republican Main Street Partnership Speaker Speakership Steve LaTourette
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