The politically polarized U.S. House of Representatives is often the place where legislation goes to die. It’s nice to see Rep. Tom Reed and his Problem Solvers Caucus making a push for rules changes that could move the House from paralysis to performance.
The Corning Republican is co-chairman of the Problem Solvers, a caucus of 24 Republicans and 24 Democrats formed in 2016 to try to find centrist solutions to big issues. Last week the caucus released a package of proposals for rules changes in the House that would make it easier for lawmakers to actually legislate.
Among the top reforms, Reed and the Problem Solvers are pushing for an end to the so-called Hastert Rule, which blocks a bill from getting a hearing on the House floor unless it has the support of a majority of members of the majority party, which currently is the Republicans. Although the Hastert Rule is informal, it has blocked consideration of immigration reform bills, an infrastructure deal or a ban on bump stocks from coming to the House floor, among other issues.
The Problem Solvers face opposition from the House’s Freedom Caucus, the conservative group that is infamous for its refusal to compromise. The Freedom Caucus in 2017 torpedoed a House Republican bill called the American Health Care Act, which was designed to replace the Affordable Care Act passed under President Barack Obama.
In general, many lawmakers of both parties believe they have little say in House decision-making under the current system.
Politics could be at play, of course. Reed’s seat is up for re-election this year. And there is a real possibility that the midterm elections in November could flip the House to a Democratic majority. A Hastert Rule under a Democratic speaker would be mightily uncomfortable for Reed and his Republican colleagues.
But the proposed change also has the support of the Problem Solvers’ Democrats, suggesting that the group’s motivation isn’t merely political. And, in any case, if it benefits the country – which this proposal would – the politics doesn’t really matter.
The Problem Solvers plan to lobby their House colleagues after the August recess to endorse their reform package. Uncertainty over the midterms and control of the House could work to their advantage, giving members of both parties incentive to sign on before November.
Also working in the caucus’ favor is that a new House speaker will be chosen next year. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., is retiring and California Democrat Nancy Pelosi may not have the support to maintain her leadership role. The Problem Solvers have vowed to withhold their vote for a new speaker candidate unless getting a pledge from him or her to support the reform package.
Another key step in the Problem Solvers’ plan is that it would end the practice of allowing any House member to force a no-confidence vote on the House speaker, which puts relentless pressure on that office. The Freedom Caucus used the procedure in 2015 to force the resignation of then-Speaker John Boehner.
The Problem Solvers’ package includes other bipartisan-friendly steps to require votes on bills that have significant support from Republican and Democratic lawmakers.
The Freedom Caucus, which will not want to relinquish its chokehold, will fight the reforms. But, for too long now, extremists have made Congress barely functional, while turning “compromise” into a dirty word.
German statesman Ludwig Erhard said that compromise “is the art of dividing a cake in such a way that everyone believes he has the biggest piece.” That may be raising the bar too high for today’s Congress, but Reed and his caucus colleagues deserve credit for trying to nudge the House out of its state of inertia and back into the business of governing.