A group of freshman Republicans and Blue Dog Democrats have embarked on a quest to mend Congress from the inside out, from accountability to civility.
The Fix Congress Now Caucus launched last month with a goal to get members around the table — even one caucus leader’s dinner table — and an inaugural legislative effort to see that lawmakers won’t take home pay if they don’t pass a budget and appropriations bills on time.
Rep. Scott Rigell (R-Va.) told PJM that the idea to band together sprang from discussions with the other caucus leaders, Reps. Reid Ribble (R-Wisc.), Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.), and Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.). The No Budget, No Pay Act is Cooper’s bill, and its co-sponsors include caucus leaders and some of the other members of the fledgling caucus, who are Reps. Joe Walsh (R-Ill.), Steve Southerland (R-Fla.), Jeff Landry (R-Fla.), Bobby Schilling (R-Ill.), Diane Black (R-Tenn.), and Bill Flores (R-Texas).
Rigell called the caucus a “deliberate effort focused on one thing, and that is to strike at the heart of what is threatening the future of our county — our dysfunctioning Congress.”
As the owner of a car dealership turned lawmaker, the congressman said he’s been bothered by the tendency in Washington to “shut down and stop communication” when impediments arise. “People who are successful in business, who are successful in other areas, know that’s precisely when you do need to talk,” Rigell said.
He and his wife keep a Washington home specifically to bring Republicans and Democrats together around good food and good company, “so we could begin to help in our own way to heal this country.”
“It’s so severe, we can’t stay on this path,” Rigell said. “We’ve got to start talking with each other. We need to spend less time at the podiums and more time at a kitchen table.”
Besides enjoying the Rigells’ home cooking, the caucus has another credo: “civility is not weakness.”
“We always use the term ‘president’ when Obama is used,” Rigell said. “One day we’ll have a Republican president. It is my hope that in homes of Democrats… that they raise children to say ‘President Jones,’ whomever it may be.”
“We’ve got to pass it on to the next generation and we’re not doing a very good job of that,” he added.
The Republican anticipates Fix Congress Now growth before the August recess, and the caucus already has a website and social media accounts up and running. While Cooper’s bill is No. 1 on the agenda, the caucus members are meeting around that table to chart their path forward.
“You’ve got some very conservative members as part of this caucus, myself included,” Rigell said. “I am convinced that every member of the caucus believes that there is common ground. I don’t know one Democrat that wants this country to go into bankruptcy.”
“We’re not fighting each other, but we’re fighting for common ground,” he added.
Rigell, like the other Republicans in the caucus, was elected in the 2010 midterm GOP rout driven by grass-roots Tea Party activists and conservative anger over early Obama initiatives like the healthcare law. In January, Rigell walked back his earlier support of the Americans for Tax Reform pledge. “I think it’s hurt our country,” he told PJM.
The caucus co-founder’s complaints extend beyond Grover Norquist’s pledge programs, though.
“If I thought this place was OK, I truly wouldn’t be here,” he said.
And what is driving the Tea Party, Rigell said, or activists of any stripe “is Americans know that there is a day of reckoning with this fiscal path that we’re on, and woe be any member of Congress who doesn’t put that at the forefront of their efforts.”
“It’s not just kind of a hard-right Tea Party mindset,” he added. “Democrats and Republicans are saying we can’t stay on this path. Common ground exists. I’m convinced of this.”