WASHINGTON – Rep. Tom Reed's bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus Wednesday solved its first problem, as Democratic members of the group struck a deal with Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi – who will likely return to the House speakership next year – on a series of rules changes aimed at giving more lawmakers a voice in lawmaking.
The deal isn't as far-reaching as what the Problem Solvers originally sought, but it would open up the legislative process to popular bipartisan measures while diluting the influence of lawmakers on the far right and far left.
Reed, the Republican co-chair of the Problem Solvers, said he liked the deal that his Democratic co-chair Rep. Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey struck with Pelosi.
"I think this is significant, that she opened up the door to giving power back to members," Reed, a lawmaker from Corning who represents the Southern Tier, said after reviewing the deal. "I'm very proud of Josh and proud to support these reforms."
The deal helps solidify Pelosi's campaign to return to the speakership, where she served when the Democrats last controlled the House from 2007 to 2011.
In signing onto the deal, nine Democratic Problem Solvers signed onto her bid for the speakership, further dwindling the number of Democrats expected to oppose her.
"We said from the moment that we began our work on these reforms six months ago, that we would only support a speaker who was willing to agree to rules changes that would help break the gridlock," the Democratic Problem Solvers said in a statement. "We have reached such an agreement with Leader Pelosi to help break the gridlock for the American people and will support her, so these rules and reforms can be adopted in January."
Pelosi negotiated the deal with the Democratic Problem Solvers with the help of Rep. Jim McGovern of Massachusetts, the incoming chairman of the House Rules Committee, the gatekeeper for legislation heading to the House floor.
“House Democrats are committed to having an open, bipartisan and unifying Congress," Pelosi and McGovern said in a joint statement. "To that end, we’ve had the most inclusive process ever for a House rules package, taking input from all members of our caucus."
Under the new rules:
- Any bill that has 290 co-sponsors will be able to come to the House floor for a vote rather than being bottled up in committee.
- Amendments with at least 20 co-sponsors from each party would be prioritized as the Rules Committee prepares legislation to move to the House floor.
- The discharge petition process, which allows lawmakers to force bills to the floor for a vote if they get 218 signatures, would be modernized so that such measures could come to the floor more quickly and on any day the House is in session, rather than on the selected Mondays on which they were previously allowed.
- The procedure called "the motion to vacate the chair" would be reformed so that organized groups on the far sides of the political spectrum – such as the conservative Freedom Caucus – could not so easily threaten a coup to oust the speaker.
The deal makes no mention of the so-called "Hastert Rule," an informal arrangement in which the only legislation that goes to the floor of the House has the support of a majority of the members of the majority party. The Problem Solvers wanted that rule eliminated.
In addition, the new House rules would not erect the kind of high bar the Problem Solvers were seeking to block "closed rules" that limit amendments on the House floor.
Reed said he would continue to press for more far-reaching reforms, even though the deal as it stands would lead to a much more open House.
"If you look at these reforms, they're obviously a step in the right direction," he said. Calling the deal "a success," Reed added: "We're going to get the House working again for the American people."