The bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus is ready to take charge, meet Biden’s call for unity
Thomas Phippen, DCNF
- While some on both sides of the aisle have scoffed at President Joe Biden’s repeated calls for unity, the coronavirus pandemic, economic recession and millions of Americans struggling as a result make it more critical than ever before.
- Rep. Tom Reed, a New York Republican, co-chairs the Problem Solvers Caucus, a group of 28 Republicans and 28 Democrats committed to passing bipartisan legislation. “I do think [unity] is attainable,” Reed said in a phone interview with the Daily Caller News Foundation, discussing how suffering inflicted by the pandemic and the violence seen on Jan. 6 amplified the need for Americans to come together.
- “Our role is only going to get bigger and bigger… and we have stakeholders across the country who are supporting us and counting on us,” Reed said, adding that the extremely narrow congressional majorities put the Problem Solvers Caucus in a position to effectively block legislation that lacks bipartisan support. “We’ve learned how to use the rules, how to use the process of the House, as well as how to influence the substance of the policy to bring people together.”
While some on both sides of the aisle have scoffed at President Joe Biden’s repeated calls for unity, the coronavirus pandemic, economic recession and millions of Americans struggling as a result make it more critical than ever before, according to some in Congress.
New York Republican Rep. Tom Reed and New Jersey Democratic Rep. Josh Gottheimer co-chair the Problem Solvers Caucus, a group of 28 Republicans and 28 Democrats that has taken Biden at his word and has committed to passing bipartisan legislation.
“Restoring faith in our democratic institutions and rebuilding our economy will require all of us — regardless of party and at every level of government — to set aside our differences, bind our wounds, and commit to doing the hard work of bipartisan lawmaking,” caucus members said in a joint statement after Biden’s inauguration.
“The Problem Solvers Caucus stands ready and eager to work with President Biden on this effort. If we can commit to working across the aisle and collaborating on a genuine bipartisan agenda, the opportunities are endless. Congress is narrowly divided in both the House and Senate. Bipartisan solutions will be the only way to enact meaningful legislation and address the many challenges plaguing our country,” the statement reads.
The group was instrumental in crafting the eventual relief package that Congress passed in December, and with Democrats’ narrowed House majority and a president of the same party who will have to rely on Republican votes to pass any major legislation, the caucus is poised to play a powerful role in shaping the nation’s economic recovery and fight against the coronavirus.
“I do think [unity] is attainable,” Reed said in a phone interview with the Daily Caller News Foundation. The suffering inflicted by the pandemic and the violence seen on Jan. 6 amplified the need for Americans to come together, Reed said.
“I think where we are now… recognizing that the pandemic has caused so much loss and devastation, not just with the loss of lives, but with the economy and businesses and the loss of faith and hope. I just think that now more than ever is a time that maybe the tragedy of COVID-19 and that historic low point of Jan. 6 brings us together,” Reed said.
“I think, that if we do look in the mirror, to our better angels, the message that President Biden offered on Inauguration Day will resoundingly take over America,” he said.
Reed was quick to acknowledge, however, that preaching unity is far easier than achieving it. The last Congress was one of the least productive in decades (though it set a record for social media activity), failing to pass widely-supported legislation like criminal justice reform or an infrastructure bill and taking months to compromise on a coronavirus relief package as millions of Americans saw their unemployment benefits lapse and the businesses close.
The body finished its session on Jan. 3 with an approval rating just over 19%.
Congress has also found largely itself on opposite sides of former President Donald Trump’s impeachment and Senate trial. While Democrats have said that unity and accountability for Trump’s alleged incitement of the Capitol rioters are not mutually exclusive, many Republicans, including Reed, have stopped short of backing Democrats’ efforts, warning that they will only further divide the country and undermine Biden’s central message.
Biden has so far centered his presidency around beating the pandemic, but he has relied on executive orders to combat it and fill other campaign promises in the opening days of his term. Reed said that he did not blame the president for adopting liberal policies, he cautioned that the best thing for the country was passing legislation that arose from compromise, not orders that bypassed Congress.
“I understand the need for executive action. I understand demonstrating to the 81 million people who voted for him that you’re going to use that position… to execute upon their voice. But don’t forget the voice of the 74 million who voted against you,” Reed said, noting that executive orders can be undone just as easily as they are done.
While keenly aware of the difficulty in reaching long-sought compromise, Reed, whose caucus has led efforts to craft bipartisan legislation relating to health care, infrastructure, immigration and more, said that the efforts to do so are exactly where his caucus will play an outsized role.
“Our role is only going to get bigger and bigger… and we have stakeholders across the country who are supporting us and counting on us,” he said, adding that the extremely narrow congressional majorities put the Problem Solvers Caucus in a position to effectively block legislation that lacks bipartisan support.
“We’ve learned how to use the rules, how to use the process of the House, as well as how to influence the substance of the policy to bring people together,” Reed added.
The caucus’s approach is something that Biden himself could likely get behind. He held a conference call on Sunday with a 16 senators, Reed and Gottheimer, who themselves have expressed the need for bipartisan deal-making and have been working with the Problem Solvers Caucus to achieve it.
“We’ve been working with them on a weekly basis, sometimes even a daily basis” Reed said. “Sixteen senators when you have a 50-50 split in the Senate? You have 16 senators who are committed to governing this way… that will allow either the administration to be successful or Americans to be successful, or will splinter and result in nothing getting done, and that’s a shame.”
Lawmakers in the House and Senate have echoed Reed, including Democratic senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, who reaffirmed their opposition to abolishing the filibuster, which has emerged as a divisive issue.
“Kyrsten is against eliminating the filibuster, and she is not open to changing her mind about eliminating the filibuster,” a spokesperson for Sinema said on Monday.
Reed offered a cautionary tale to Democratic and Republican lawmakers who have called for uniting against one another instead of among themselves.
“That doesn’t usually work. And if you look at history, the true legacy impact moments are when the country works best by working together,” he said. “I’d encourage them to learn that lesson. If you want to resist, and say ‘my way or the highway,’ you’re probably not going to be very successful.”
“You go to D.C. to get something done, and if all you’re doing is playing politics 24/7, if you’re an automatic ‘no’ or ‘yes’… it becomes a very unrewarding lifestyle.”