Bipartisan Problem-Solvers Caucus Optimistic About Increased Influence in 2021

December 10, 2020 Updated: December 10, 2020

Members of the Problem-Solvers Caucus (PRC) in the House of Representatives are gaining a high profile as the 116th Congress seeks to wrap up its business and head home.

Two problems have provided a flurry of opportunities for PSC members to gain camera time pitching what they typically call “common-sense solutions.”

Those problems are finding a compromise with Senate Republicans on a CCP virus relief bill that President Donald Trump will sign, and keeping the federal government funded into 2021.

The caucus drew plaudits on Dec. 6 by advancing a compromise relief bill that PSC Co-Chairman Rep. Tom Reed (R-N.Y.) said illustrates why 2021 will be made to order for the caucus.

“In the Problem-Solvers Caucus, we’ve got some of the most right, the most left members that are part of it, but the commonality is that they’re pragmatic, they’re common-sense-driven members,” Reed told Just the News.

“I think what you’re going to see in the next Congress, with the tight majorities, is that those members are going to rise to the top, and they’re going to be in a position to influence the agenda greatly.”

The PSC has high expectations for the 117th Congress because House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) lost 10 seats to Republicans in the November election, leaving her with a razor-thin majority that can disappear with just five Democrats switching their votes.

The situation could put Reed and fellow PSC Co-Chairman Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.) in the catbird seat. There are presently 47 Democrats and 27 Republicans in the caucus that bills itself as “committed to finding common ground on many of the key issues facing the nation,” according to the caucus’ website. “Only when we work together as Americans can we successfully break through the gridlock of today’s politics.”

Bipartisanship

Democratic strategist Christy Setzer noted that the “American people voted for divided government for a reason. The ultimate policies the group supports are less important, in some ways, than the fact that Republicans and Democrats are seen as working together.”

For that reason, Setzer told The Epoch Times, “the PSC will absolutely rise in importance; it’s the easiest shorthand to show effective government.”

Similarly, another Democratic strategist, Kevin Chavous, told The Epoch Times the PSC “will benefit from the narrow majority held by House Democrats by seeing its influence increase. … In order for Democrats to get things done with such a narrow majority, bipartisanship will be key. I think this is what Americans want to see.”

And Zach Friend, a Santa Cruz, California, county supervisor who was a regional spokesman for President Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign, said he believes former Vice President Joe Biden, if he takes office, will “provide a greater opportunity for those willing to work across the aisle, like the Problem-Solvers Caucus.”

That being said, Friend added, “no matter what happens in the upcoming Senate races, it will be a Congress with thin margins, so moderates have the potential for a stronger voice.”

Friend was referring to the two Senate races that will be decided in Georgia in a Jan. 5 runoff election. Republicans will maintain a 51–49 Senate majority (counting the two independents, Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Angus King of Maine) by winning one of the two races, while Democrats must win both to gain a 50–50 tie that would be broken by whoever is the vice president.

The Epoch Times will refer to neither President Donald Trump nor Joe Biden as “president-elect” until all of the current litigation challenging the results in multiple states are resolved.

Ideology

Even so, the PSC’s ideological makeup may be its biggest obstacle to breaking the gridlock that has plagued Congress for decades.

The current membership will refresh in the new Congress, thanks to retirements, defeated re-election bids, and freshmen joining the ranks. But the present ideological divide within the PSC isn’t likely to change noticeably.

Using the American Conservative Union’s (ACU) latest ratings as the measure, the PSC’s large Democratic majority is much further to the left on the political spectrum than its Republican members are to the right.

Democratic chair Gottheimer’s rating of 11 by ACU puts him well to the left, compared to Republican chair Reed, with a 64 rating. Overall, the average ACU rating for the 47 Democratic members is 10, with the 27 Republican members showing a figure of 69.

That means the average PSC Democrat is 40 points to the left of the center, a 50 rating, while the average Republican is only 19 points to the right.

Compromise

Such data may suggest huge problems in finding a handful of PSC members from either party, or combination representing both, to endorse compromises that represent policies demanded by hard progressives such as Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.).

“You can just add the so-called Problem-Solvers Caucus to the list of headaches that the speaker is going to have next year as she tries to find the majority necessary to get the Biden agenda out of the House and over to the Senate,” Democratic strategist Jim Manley told The Epoch Times.

Manley, who was communications director for then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and a senior adviser to Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.), said the slim Democratic majority means everybody will position themselves for maximum leverage.

“This slim majority is a real problem. The squad, the Problem-Solvers Caucus, and even Republicans are going to demand buy-in before agreeing to anything,” Manley said.

Veteran Republican strategist Brian Darling agreed, telling The Epoch Times that “the so-called Problem-Solvers Caucus may cause problems for Republicans in defining the agenda going forward. If they agree to Democrat-lite proposals on defunding the police, the Green New Deal and on tax hikes, they will be diluting the Republican message going forward.”

Darling, the former senior counsel to Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) who now heads the conservative lobbying firm Liberty Government Affairs, added that “if there are good-faith grounds for compromise, then more power to them, yet it is more likely that the caucus will agree to massive spending proposals without regard to the crushing debt our federal government has accumulated in response to the coronavirus pandemic.”

Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist said the PSC should avoid “the traditional type of compromise where each side gets something it wants and that the other hates. Everyone gets pizza with their favorite topping and shards of glass.”

The more prudent form of compromise, which Norquist recommends to the PSC, is “to look at the Venn diagram and find the smaller area where principled men and women of the right and left can both agree and limit your legislation to that zone.

“Transparency in government, criminal justice reform, term limits, and immigration reform all recommend themselves for small steps forward where no congressman is asked to vote for what they believe is destructive.”

Contact Mark Tapscott at Mark.Tapscott@epochtimes.nyc