How the Problem Solvers Caucus is creating change in Washington
WASHINGTON, D.C. - In Sept. 2018, New York Republican Rep. Tom Reed and his Problem Solvers Caucus Co-Chair, Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.) outlined a plan to “break the gridlock.” By offering a series of rules reform requests, it their attempt to clear the way for highly-supported legislation to actually get a vote on the house floor. In early 2019, the duo struck the deal with incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
“There were 33 bills, I think, last Congress, with over 300 co-sponsors, people who support it that never got to the floor for a debate and a vote,” Gottheimer told WENY News. “We said that makes no sense. That’s not the way the Democratic process should work.”
That deal almost didn’t happen. But there is strength in numbers.
The group of 24 Republicans and 24 Democrats, all U.S. House members, make up roughly one-tenth of the House. In a simple political numbers game, Pelosi needed their votes to become speaker.
Now, any bill with 290 co-sponsors automatically gets a full House vote.
“It’s all about votes,” Reed said. “When you have that leverage, when you vote as a bloc like we do, you can actually influence the agenda.”
Since then, the Problem Solvers Caucus has been finding themselves in the middle of several key battles on Capitol Hill – and in some high-profile cases, they are winning.
In June, they forced House Democrats to accept a Senate compromise on the $4.6 billion humanitarian aid package on the Southern border. In July, that deal they struck with pelosi ultimately pushed the 9/11 victims’ compensation fund extension to a full vote.
“We’re tapping into that voice of America that is silent right now, but is representative in Congress itself,” Reed said.
These solution-seekers try not to play the blame game. Caucus rules prohibit members from campaigning against colleagues from the other party; and they don’t endorse legislation unless 75 percent of their group are backing it.
Pennsylvania Republican Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, who serves the suburban Philadelphia area, immediately joined the group when was elected to Congress in 2017. Even before winning his seat, he first spoke with officials from No Labels, the non-profit organization that helped develop the Problem Solvers Caucus. Fitzpatrick said he knew he would join the caucus if elected.
“That’s how we manage our families, that’s how we manage our businesses is coming to the center,” Fitzpatrick said. “Government should be no different.”
That appeal isn’t lost on new members of Congress. Eighteen freshmen joined the Problem Solvers Caucus this session, including Nevada Rep. Susie Lee.
“I’m proud to be a problem solver because it’s really about bringing us together,” Lee, a Democrat, said during a July news conference.
Critics argue the Problem Solvers Caucus caves on the big issues. For example, on that border funding this summer, some Democrats railed against the group for supporting President Trump.
But these members don’t see it that way. Moving ahead, they’re hoping to leverage enough votes to tackle another big issue: prescription drug pricing.