Politics Congress' most successful bipartisan gang lives in the House — not the Senate
What Chuck Schumer can learn from Harry Reid
“I think the biggest lesson is never trust Republicans,” says one of Reid’s former staffers.The obstruction that finally pushed the Democratic leader to change the Senate’s rules in 2013 was the GOP’s refusal to consider three of President Barack Obama’s DC Circuit Court picks. But his frustration with Republican blockades had been building for months.
A few dozen House members helped bring bipartisan talks back from the dead on a massive spending bill passed six months ago. Now they want to do it again — in President Joe Biden's Washington.
The bipartisan 58-member coalition known as the Problem Solvers Caucus took something of a half-court buzzer shot this week by releasing its own version of an infrastructure deal, determined to keep talks alive between the president and Senate Republicans at least a bit longer before Democrats bound toward their own party-line bill.
Biden stuck relying on transatlantic phone calls to salvage infrastructure priorities
President Joe Biden came to Europe this week in part because he's grown tired of virtual meetings and telephone calls with world leaders, which he believes can't capture the essence of a face-to-face relationship. © Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images US President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden make their way to board Marine One before departing from The Ellipse, near the White House, in Washington, DC on June 9, 2021. - President Biden is traveling to the United Kingdom, Belgium, and Switzerland on his first foreign trip.
By Thursday afternoon, the group of senators leading those bipartisan talks — and who have been privately sharing notes for months with the Problem Solvers — declared they had reached a deal similar to scope to their House counterparts. But the Senate group, and there are even fewer assurances that its cross-aisle framework could win enough support to keep talks going when Congress returns on Monday, with Democratic leaders under pressure from the left to move things along with the GOP.
That leaves a void for the Problem Solvers to fill as they try to help pry loose some kind of compromise, if you ask caucus leaders Reps. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.) and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.). Pollyannaish as it might seem, they insist that working from the ideological center can still pay off on infrastructure even if most of their colleagues in both parties think it’s a lost cause.
Bipartisan talks sow division among Democrats
Democratic lawmakers are splitting apart over whether it makes sense to continue negotiating with Republicans on a scaled-down infrastructure package after President Biden ended talks with Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), the lead Republican negotiator on infrastructure. A new group of Senate negotiators is looking to pick up where Biden and Capito left off, but that's not welcome news to progressive Democrats, who think too much time has already been spent trying to reach an elusive bipartisan infrastructure deal.
And the group, evenly split between both parties, has precedent for success — when the same band of centrists inserted itself into coronavirus aid talks last fall, its funding proposal ended up
"People are eager to walk away. But why would you walk away when you still have an interest and both sides are at the same?" Gottheimer said in an interview.
But a new president, a new Senate majority leader and an insurrection later, the Hill dynamics couldn’t look more different than they did when the Problem Solvers helped salvage the Covid bill. A deal that took place under a divided Congress and a lame-duck president won’t be the same as any deal — if there is one at all — under a fragile Democratic majority.
"The math always is, can we build a centrist enough bloc to overcome the wings? Whatever you lose on the left and right, can you make up through bipartisan numbers?" Fitzpatrick said in an interview.
Bipartisan gang’s last-ditch infrastructure pitch under scrutiny
Lawmakers in both parties have spent weeks negotiating unsuccessfully to find a deal on infrastructure. © Provided by Washington Examiner Democrats are ready to move on and pass a bill without GOP support, but a small group of Republicans and Democrats are pitching a last-minute proposal they say can attract bipartisan support. Five Senate Republicans and five Senate Democrats announced the deal on Thursday, calling it “a realistic, compromise framework to modernize our nation’s infrastructure and energy technologies.
They have plenty of skeptics. For starters, the group hasn’t yet addressed how to pay for the package — one of the biggest issues that tanked talks between Biden and Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.). Further complicating matters, the rank-and-file group doesn't carry formal clout in either party, boasting no committee chairs or high-ranking leaders in their ranks.
One congressional aide compared the Problem Solvers Caucus to Washington’s cicada season: “They pop up every 17 weeks with a bill, but really they're just part of nature and you should just ignore their noise.”
Many members of the Problem Solvers counter that their efforts are better than letting inertia take hold. They say their proposal doesn’t just have the endorsement of the 58-member group; it’s also been cross-pollinated withsome of the most critical moderate voices in the Senate, such as Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Bill Cassidy (R-La.).
They've met both informally and formally on the subject for months, including an overnight summitof renowned centrist Larry Hogan in Maryland this spring.
Republicans plot an infrastructure 2-step: Spend more, then kill Biden’s agenda
The GOP bet that Democrats won't have the votes to pass a second, bigger bill might pay off.Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has yet to tip his hand on whether he supports the bipartisan negotiations on Biden's plan for roads and bridges that are being led by Sens. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio). But a growing number of Senate Republicans are betting that if a deal is reached on that sort of physical infrastructure, Democrats won’t have the votes needed to pass the rest of Biden’s “soft infrastructure” priorities, such as child care and clean energy.
Fitzpatrick said it wasn’t easy to get their group to agree on a framework on infrastructure amid such intense partisanship, adding that “nobody was in love with it.”
But he argued: “We’re all going to get beat up over this infrastructure plan. A lot of Republicans think it’s too much, a lot of Democrats think it's not enough. But we’re just trying to get to yes.”
Besides the raw politics of the situation, there’s also the tight timeline: According to the White House, the deadline for bipartisan talks is already several days past. Top Democrats are now preparing to move ahead without the GOP after Biden’s high-profile talks with Capito collapsed, despite the remaining Senate talks that are still clinging on.
And importantly, the math for any bipartisan deal might be as tough in the House as it is in the Senate.
The Problem Solvers can commit 58 votes in the House for their proposal, since the full caucus has agreed to vote for anything that’s endorsed by 75 percent of their caucus. That guaranteed bloc of GOP votes could be a big win for Democrats who have struggled to find cross-aisle support forthis year.
But it doesn’t ensure passage. While support from a few dozen Republican votes would make up for some Democratic defections, it might not be enough if there is large-scale opposition on the left.
Bipartisan infrastructure negotiations face progressive backlash in Congress
Congressional Democrats are still split on how to proceed with President Biden’s infrastructure plan, with left-leaning members threatening to torpedo any bipartisan agreement that doesn’t address progressive priorities. After the White House called off negotiations with Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., last week because the two sides could not find common ground on a dollar amount for the package, attention turned to a bipartisan group of senators including Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and Mitt Romney, R-Utah. The particulars of their $1.
“I literally don't see a path to getting 10 Republicans and not losing a whole bunch of Democrats,” said Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), who leads the Congressional Progressive Caucus.
While Jayapal said she had not reviewed the Problem Solvers' full infrastructure framework, she said any bipartisan deal must be accompanied by a sprawling Democrats-only bill passed using the filibuster protections of the budget process — with priorities such as climate change, housing and child care included.
“Those two things have to go together. We don’t necessarily know that the momentum would stay high for the rest of the package,” she said.
Since its founding in 2017, Problem Solvers members say they’ve heard their share of jokes about its name and mission.
For years, the group functioned mostly behind the scenes: The list of members wasn’t public online. The caucus had other rules, too: Members agreed not to campaign against each other in elections, and their meetings are strictly off the record, even among the most press-friendly members. There's a strong emphasis on trust.
The group suddenly gained more clout in the fall of 2020, when the group put itself front and center in the lagging Covid aid talks between then-President Donald Trump and the Democratic-controlled House. While some party leaders have privately downplayed the role of the group, many on Capitol Hill say the caucus' tactics helped reach a $908 billion deal.
Beyond the shifting climate in the capital, which has wroughtin the House, the Problem Solvers also face a more complicated substantive case for their latest foray. A trillion-dollar-plus infrastructure bill — at a time of rising inflation and debt — is simply harder to sell in either party than an emergency measure intended to halt a deadly pandemic in its most dire months.
Overnight Energy: Schumer to trigger reconciliation process Wednesday | Bipartisan bill would ban 'forever chemicals' in cosmetics | Biden admin eyes step toward Trump-era proposal for uranium reserve
HAPPY TUESDAY! Welcome to Overnight Energy, your source for the day's energy and environment news.Please send tips and comments to Rachel Frazin at email@example.com . Follow her on Twitter: @RachelFrazin . Reach Zack Budryk at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at @BudrykZack . Today we're reconciling with the future of infrastructure and looking at new legislation and a study on PFAS in cosmetics and an upcoming step toward a strategic uranium reserve. BYE BYE BIPARTISAN: Schumer to trigger reconciliation process WednesdaySenate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.
They decided to take the issue bit by bit: First, by defining "infrastructure" and then drafting a framework. Next, a working group will seek a compromise on pay-fors, in consultation with the Senate group, though it will almost certainly be the trickiest piece.
"You can’t jump to the last page of the book. It’s important to get agreement on the table of contents," Gottheimer said.
Covid relief and infrastructure aren't the only thorny issues the group is engaging on. Earlier this year, the group voted by secret ballot toto investigate the Jan. 6 Capitol riot. Of the 35 House Republicans who voted in favor of that commission — bucking Trump and their party leaders — the vast majority represented the Problem Solvers.
Gottheimer, Fitzpatrick and several other members have also been invited to take part in some policing reform negotiations with Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.) and Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Tim Scott (R-S.C.). That involvement stemmed from an hours-long meeting with Bass, then the chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, as she drafted the initial version of the House policing bill in the summer of 2020. They decided to keep talking.
This spring's cross-aisle discussions on infrastructure began in a similar way — out of personal ties between members from the conversations on coronavirus relief. After that deal, Gottheimer and then co-chair Rep. Tom Reed (R-N.Y.) were regularly invited to a bi-weekly lunch hosted by Manchin, where the group has talked at length about Biden’s infrastructure package. The conversations have continued despite Reed's decision in March to step down from the caucus leadership role and toin 2022 amid sexual misconduct allegations.
House Budget Committee Chair John Yarmuth said he wished the Problem Solvers “the best” as they attempted to find a compromise but acknowledged Democrats’ narrow control of the House and Senate meant they had to make a deal that at the very least, would keep most of their own party aboard.
“[Losing] four or five in the House could tank anything. So we all have to have the attitude that we have to find something we can support, or else nothing gets done,” he said.
Nicholas Wu contributed to this report.
Democratic patience runs out on bipartisan talks .
Democratic tensions over infrastructure and the Biden agenda showed signs of boiling over Tuesday as one progressive lawmaker after another blasted a bipartisan framework negotiated by centrists in both parties.The scaled-down agreement backed by a bipartisan group of 10 senators appears on life support days after it was announced, with progressives pressuring the White House to move on from bipartisan talks.While Biden has repeatedly said he'd prefer a bipartisan deal on infrastructure, the two parties appear to be far apart over what the proper size of a package should be, or how to pay for it.