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Bipartisan Caucus Wants Rules Changes to Dilute Legislative Power 'of a Few Extremists'

Problem Solvers Caucus co-chairmen Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.), right, and Rep. Tom Reed (R-N.Y.) meet with President Trump in the Cabinet Room of the White House on Sept. 13, 2017. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

WASHINGTON — The bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus this week proposed rules changes — which they intend to promote over the summer recess that begins today — to make it easier to fast-track bills with broad support and tear down other partisan roadblocks they see as impeding progress on Capitol Hill.

The 48-member caucus, created in January 2017 to bring together both sides of the aisle, is led by co-chairmen Tom Reed (R-N.Y.) and Josh Gottheimer (D-N.Y.). Proposals issued by the caucus require more than 50 percent support from either party’s members, and 75 percent of the caucus as a whole.

Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Colo.) said rules changes are needed because “there is simply too much power in too few hands with too little getting done in Congress.”

“There are strong bipartisan majorities supporting solutions on issues from healthcare to immigration,” he said. “We need to change the rules to have an open process to vote on them.”

“Our Founders warned of the dangerous effect two polarizing factions would have on our government,” added Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.). “…We need our Institutions to encourage more Members of Congress to be willing to partake in a third-way faction – one that values consensus, problem-solving and solutions-oriented debate.”

The current goal of the caucus is to obtain a commitment from as many members as possible to not vote for a candidate to replace Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) as speaker of the House unless he or she agrees to the rules changes.

“To prevent the Speaker from being held hostage by a small fraction of his/her party, replace the rule allowing a ‘Motion to Vacate the Chair’ with a public petition process that must be signed by 1/3 of the House Members to earn privileged consideration on the floor and a majority (218 votes) of the whole House to successfully remove the Speaker from the position,” reads the plan.

It adds that party ratios on all committees, excluding the 50/50 ethics committee, should reflect the party ratio of the entire House, and proposes a 3/5 supermajority to consider legislation under closed rules, which limit debate and block amendments. “Require any structured rule to have at least one germane amendment from each party,” the plan adds.

Under new fast-track rules to “enable bipartisan legislation,” a bill with at least 290 co-sponsors, or 2/3 of the House, or a majority of members from each party “must be marked up by its relevant committees and reported to the Rules Committee within 30 legislative days of receiving its 290th co-sponsor” to ensure floor consideration. “Any german amendment offered to a bill with a structured rule that has at least 20 Republican and 20 Democrat co-sponsors must be allowed floor consideration by the Rules Committee,” adds the plan.

Additionally, once person session every member of Congress would get a markup on at least one piece of legislation as long as it has at least one co-sponsor from the opposite party.

The caucus, which currently meets weekly, also wants to establish a bipartisan annual joint meeting at the start of each Congress “to discuss the term’s legislative agenda and help encourage bipartisan cooperation.”

Gottheimer said the plan is in response to seeing “time and again how our common-sense solutions get jammed up in a system built to empower the voices of a few extremists.”

“Instead of letting obstructionists create roadblocks to bipartisan consensus, the American people deserve action on everything from infrastructure to immigration,” he said. “These changes will pave the way to the House floor for bipartisan solutions and break the gridlock.”