Rep. Tom Reed’s Problem Solvers Caucus has agreed to support Nancy Pelosi for House speaker even though she didn’t meet all of the demands laid out by the bipartisan group. The reason: It compromised.
Americans should cheer.
It would have been odd – inexcusable, really – if the caucus refused to compromise, since its reason for existence is to return a level of civility and productivity to the House, both of which have been crippled by extremist demands, mainly from Freedom Caucus radicals and tea party zealots. But it did compromise and, in the process, won enough rule changes to justify its efforts.
Reed, R-Corning, is the Republican leader of the Problem Solvers Caucus and with Rep. Chris Collins of Clarence facing federal charges of insider trading, a rising leader of upstate’s Republican delegation to Washington. He campaigned for re-election this year promising that he was “all in” on the Problem Solvers’ demand for reforms that returned some power back to members.
In compromising, Reed was, himself, practicing what he has been preaching about Congress’ increasing inability to function. Compromise is necessary. Almost always, it’s better to get half a loaf than nothing, especially in a body that commingles a broad range of ideas on how American government should work.
But the difference between Reed’s group and the radicals in Congress is contained in that three-letter word, “how.” Its members want government to work, even though they may differ on what is appropriate. The Freedom Caucus and tea-partyers would substitute the word “whether.” To them, America’s government is America’s enemy, better suffocated than directed.
By exercising the wag-the-dog influence their numbers provide, the Problems Solvers were able to persuade Pelosi to agree to a number of rule changes that restrict the power of House leadership to the benefit of the ideals democratic government. Under the new rules:
- Any bill with at least 290 co-sponsors can come to a floor vote.
- 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, would be modernized so that such measures could come to the floor more quickly and on any day the House is in session.
- The procedure called “the motion to vacate the chair” would be reformed so that organized groups on the far sides of the political spectrum – right or left – could not so easily threaten a coup to oust the speaker.
What was left off in the compromise was an end to what is known as the Hastert Rule, which allows floor votes only on legislation that had majority support within the majority caucus. That policy prevented votes on matters in which moderate members of both parties may have forged agreements. The Problems Solvers were also seeking to restrict “closed rules” that limit amendments on the House floor.
But the caucus made a good start. It pledged to use its clout in the fight of selecting a speaker and it did so – not achieving all of its goals, but enough to agree to an honorable compromise.
Only one thing: We have yet to hear Reed say he will cast his vote for Pelosi when the new Congress formally selects its speaker in January. Given that no Republican will win that vote and given the Problem Solvers’ commitment to restoring compromise as an honorable tool of Congress, Reed and the caucus should make that symbolic show of compromise and start the year in democratically healthy fashion.