That leaves a void for problem solvers to fill as they try to help strike some sort of compromise, if you ask caucus leaders Reps Josh Gottheimer (DN.J.) and Brian Fitzpatrick (R- Pa.). As pollyannaish as it sounds, they insist that working from the ideological center can still pay off on infrastructure, even though most of their colleagues on both sides believe it is a lost cause.
And the group, equally divided between the two sides, has a precedent of success – when the same group of centrists entered the coronavirus aid talks last fall, its funding proposal ended up looking a lot like to the final bill.
“People are eager to leave. But why would you leave when you still have an interest and both sides are on the same level?” Gottheimer said in an interview.
But a new president, a new Senate Majority Leader, and an insurgency later, Hill’s dynamic couldn’t be more different than it was when the Problem Solvers helped save the Covid Bill. A deal that took place under a divided Congress and a lame president will not be the same as any deal – if there is one – under a fragile Democratic majority.
“The math is always this: can we build a bloc centrist enough to overcome the wings? Whatever you lose left and right, can you make up for it with bipartite numbers? Fitzpatrick said in an interview.
They have a lot of skeptics. For starters, the group has yet to explain how to pay for the package – one of the biggest issues raging in discussions between Biden and Senator Shelley Moore Capito (RW.Va.). To complicate matters further, the grassroots group has no formal influence in any of the parties, boasting no committee chairmen or high-ranking leaders in its ranks.
A congressional contributor compared the Problem Solvers Caucus to Washington’s cicadas season: “They appear every 17 weeks with a bill, but in reality they are just part of nature and you should just ignore their noise.
Many Problem Solvers retort that their efforts are better than letting inertia set in. They say their proposal not only has the approval of the 58-member group; it was also crossed with ideas endorsed by some of the Senate’s most critical moderate voices, such as Sens. Joe Manchin (DW.Va.), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Bill Cassidy (R-La.).
They have met both informally and formally on the subject for months, including a nightly summit at famed centrist Larry Hogan’s governor mansion in Maryland this spring.
Fitzpatrick said it was not easy to get their group to agree on an infrastructure framework amid such intense partisanship, adding that “no one was in love with it.”
But he argued, “We’re all going to get beat up on 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 come up with a yes.
Besides the crude politics of the situation, there is also the tight schedule: According to the White House, the deadline for bipartite talks has already passed for several days. Top Democrats are now preparing to move forward without the GOP after Biden’s high-profile talks with Capito collapsed, despite remaining Senate talks continuing.
Most importantly, the calculations for any bipartisan deal could be as difficult in the House as in the Senate.
Problem solvers can call 58 votes in the House for their proposal, since the entire caucus has agreed to vote for anything approved by 75 percent of their caucus. This guaranteed block of GOP votes could be a big win for Democrats who have struggled to find mutual support for the less controversial bills this year.
But that does not ensure passage. While the support of a few dozen Republican votes would make up for some Democratic defections, that might not be enough if there is large-scale opposition on the left.
“I literally can’t see a way to get 10 Republicans and not lose a whole bunch of Democrats,” said Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), Who heads the Congressional Progressive Caucus.
While Jayapal said she had not looked at Problem Solvers’ full infrastructure framework, she said any bipartisan deal must be accompanied by a sprawling Democrats-only bill, passed using the protections against obstruction of the budget process – with priorities such as climate change, housing and child care included.
“These two things have to go hand in hand. We don’t necessarily know the momentum would stay high for the rest of the package, ”she said.
Since its inception in 2017, Problem Solvers members say they’ve heard their fair share of jokes about its name and mission.
For years, the group operated mainly behind the scenes: the membership list was not public online. The caucus had other rules as well: Members agreed not to campaign against each other in the election, and their meetings are strictly confidential, even among the most pro-media members. There is a strong emphasis on trust.
The group suddenly gained weight in the fall of 2020, when the group came to the forefront in the lagging talks over Covid aid between then-President Donald Trump and the House controlled by the Democrats. While some party leaders have privately downplayed the group’s role, many on Capitol Hill say caucus tactics resulted in a $ 908 billion deal.
Beyond the changing climate in the capital, which has caused a dramatic escalation of tensions in the House, the Problem Solvers also face a more complicated background case for their latest foray. An infrastructure bill of over $ 1 trillion – in an era of rising inflation and debt – is simply harder to sell in either party than an emergency measure intended to stop a deadly pandemic in its toughest months.
They decided to take the problem step by step: first by defining the “infrastructure” and then by developing a framework. Then a task force will seek a compromise on compensation, in consultation with the Senate group, although this will almost certainly be the most delicate 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 are not the only thorny issues the group is committed to. Earlier this year, the group voted by secret ballot to support a September 11-type commission to investigate the January 6 riot on Capitol Hill. Of the 35 House Republicans who voted for this commission – against Trump and their party leaders – the vast majority were problem-solvers.
Gottheimer, Fitzpatrick and several other members also participated in police reform negotiations with Representative Karen Bass (D-Calif.) And Sens. Cory Booker (DN.J.) and Tim Scott (RS.C.). This involvement stemmed from a meeting lasting several hours with Bass, then president of the Congressional Black Caucus, as she drafted the initial version of the House Policing Bill in the summer of 2020. They decided to continue with speak.
They held several meetings to consider the issue of qualified immunity and other parts of the reforms, raising points that Bass would also bring to Scott for consideration and consideration.
“When we get a bill on President Biden’s desk, those conversations will have been key factors in getting there,” Bass said in a statement to POLITICO.
This spring’s cross-cutting discussions on infrastructure began in a similar fashion – from personal connections between members from conversations about coronavirus relief. Following the deal, Gottheimer, and then the co-chair, Rep. Tom Reed (RN.Y.) were regularly invited to a bi-weekly luncheon hosted by Manchin, where the group spoke at length about Biden’s infrastructure package. Conversations continued despite Reed’s decision in March to step down as caucus leader and step down from the House in 2022 amid allegations of sexual misconduct.
House Budget Committee Chairman John Yarmuth said he wished problem-solvers “the best” as they tried to find a compromise, but acknowledged that Democrats’ tight control over the House and the Senate meant they had to strike a deal that, at the very least, would keep most of their own party on board.
“[Losing] four or five in the House could ruin anything. So we all have to have the attitude that we have to find something that we can support or nothing will be done, ”he said.
Nicholas Wu contributed to this report.