House

Problem Solvers Caucus has a vision: a bipartisan House

The Problem Solvers Caucus will release a package of rules reforms on Wednesday that are intended to make the House more bipartisan and inclusive.

The proposals from the 48-member caucus, which promotes bipartisan initiatives, include giving fast-track consideration to any bill with widespread support and making it harder to oust the House Speaker.

Caucus members have said they will promote the suggestions when they head home for the August recess, after a tumultuous month in Congress marked by inaction on the issue of family separations at the border and by partisan bickering over Russia.

To add spine to the proposals, the caucus is seeking an ambitious pledge from lawmakers in both parties: Don't support the next Speaker unless the candidate replacing retiring Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) agrees to enact the rule changes.

That part of the strategy could prove difficult, though caucus members are supportive.

Caucus co-Chairman Tom Reed (R-N.Y.) has said he is willing to withhold his votes for Speaker unless the rule changes are agreed to, according to an aide familiar with internal discussions. And Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Colo.) told The Hill he is "absolutely" willing to make such a commitment.

"We care about reforming the institution so that Congress is actually able to get things done for the people back home," Reed said.

"Due to the House floor being controlled by a select few, most members of Congress are not able to bring their ideas and proposals to the House floor for a fair vote that would allow us to begin solving some of the most contentious issues facing our country today."

With a slim majority expected no matter which party wins the House in the November midterm elections, the group says they only need a handful of lawmakers to commit to the idea in order to have serious sway over the next Speaker.

"The way we're seeing it is, we believe that it's going to be very close either way," Coffman told The Hill. "So either way, our Republican members or Democratic members will be prepared to do it."

The Problem Solvers Caucus, evenly split between Democrats and Republicans, has been negotiating the rules package for months. The caucus requires agreement from 75 percent of the group and more than 50 percent of each party to back any proposal.

Among key provisions in their rules package, one dubbed "Break the Gridlock" would give fast-track consideration to any bill that has two-thirds of the House co-sponsoring the legislation, according to a copy obtained by The Hill.

Another proposal wants to reform the "motion to vacate the chair," which allows a single lawmaker to force a vote on ousting the sitting Speaker.

Reform advocates say the tool has given too much power to individuals and small factions of the party, who dangle the threat of the motion to vacate over the Speaker's head. The proposal would instead require one-third of the House to sign a public petition to force such a vote.

Other provisions in the reform package include ensuring that party ratios on committees reflect the party makeup of the entire House, as well as requiring a supermajority to pass any legislation under a "closed rule" system that doesn't allow any amendments.

Provisions also include granting members a markup on one piece of legislation per session if it has a co-sponsor from the opposite party and mandating a joint bipartisan meeting at the beginning of every Congress.

"We've seen time and again how our common sense solutions get jammed up in a system built to empower the voices of a few extremists," said Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.), who co-chairs the caucus with Reed. "Instead of letting obstructionists create roadblocks to bipartisan consensus, the American people deserve action on everything from infrastructure to immigration."

"These changes will pave the way to the House floor for bipartisan solutions and break the gridlock," he added.

Bipartisanship advocates believe they are facing their best chance yet to fix what many frustrated lawmakers have described as a broken political system in Washington.

Much of the success of the Problem Solvers proposals will hinge on whether they can convince other lawmakers to make the endorsement of the reforms a requirement for the next Speaker.

It's an idea they are hoping will gain steam, especially as both lawmakers and the public grow increasingly frustrated with the polarization in Congress.

There is some precedent for success: In 1923, a group of progressive Republicans demanded congressional reforms and withheld their votes for Speaker until the demands were heeded.

But any effort to loosen the Speaker's grip on power is likely to face fierce resistance from the old guard in both parties, and it's unclear whether enough centrist lawmakers would be willing to play such hardball.

A group of insurgent moderate Republicans, including some Problem Solvers Caucus members, tried to force floor action on immigration earlier this year using a discharge petition, but ultimately fell short in collecting enough signatures.

The Problem Solvers Caucus is trying to seek as many public commitments from lawmakers as possible before the midterm elections, knowing that once elected pressure to toe the party line will increase.

The group has already started pitching the idea to other colleagues and congressional candidates who are running for House seats, but will really kick the effort into high gear in the September, when Congress returns from recess.

"[The rules package] will revive bipartisanship in the Congress. From my perspective, there's too much power in too few hands," said Coffman, who is facing a tough reelection race.

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