Can the Moderates Take Back Congress?

We have all heard it time and again that the majority of American voters are “somewhere in between Democrat and Republican.” We question “Why do our elected officials only represent the far left or the far right?” 

There are several theories as to how we can lessen this divide, including open primaries and other electoral reform changes, but today I want to focus on the potential for those in Congress who DO represent the middle to gain influence. Can they?

Members who are not firebrands, and who may recognize value in policies being proposed by (gasp!) the other Party, have an inherent challenge in gaining power in Congress. The mere fact that they may not vote the Party-line 100% of the time puts them at risk of losing powerful Committee leadership positions to those who do. 

Associated with these leadership positions is campaign money. This money comes from outside sources who find the member’s leadership post valuable and from the Party itself.

This prospect of potentially less resources and a slower rise to power does not always sit well with politicians- even as public service oriented as many of them are! My point is that being the “moderate voice” in the room is never the easiest position for an elected official. It takes courage and stamina and can often feel a bit lonely.

The Tuesday Group Republicans were formed in 1994 after the Republicans took over the House, created by a group of about 50 moderate Republicans. Many of these Members represented suburban Districts. While fiscally conservative, they were more socially moderate. Our firm’s partner, Tom Ridge, was a proud member of the Tuesday Group.

The next year (1995) the Blue Dog Democrat Coalition formed, bringing together a group of conservative-leaning Democrats. They often partnered with Tuesday Group Republicans on policy issues, creating a bipartisan coalition.  For over a decade, these group would be influential and were often brought to the negotiating table to secure the final block of votes to move a bill across the finish line.

By 2007, when Democrats took over both the House and Senate, the influence of these moderate groups began to wane. As partisanship continued to intensify, election results increasingly came at the expense of a moderate policymaker. 

Unfortunately, today Congress finds itself and in utter and total gridlock. With the House, Senate, and White House all seemingly unable to find common ground, the legislative process seems more dysfunctional than ever before. The inability for our elected officials to put politics aside and pass laws responding to the unprecedented global pandemic is infuriating and just plain embarrassing.

In the middle of this stalemate there is a group in Congress who is committed to focusing on solutions. This group is composed of Members with varying degrees of power alone but collectively have been picking up some significant policy wins. This group is called the Problem Solvers Caucus. 

The beauty of the Problem Solvers Caucus is that it is not a group of moderates from one Party, like the Tuesday Group and Blue Dogs, but a bipartisan group of Members willing to cross Party lines and deliver compromise solutions. In fact, the only way to join this group is in partnership with a member of the opposite Party, as the Problem Solvers work to ensure that their membership is made up equally of Republicans and Democrats. 

Since their creation in 2017, the Problem Solvers Caucus has been making an impact on policies ranging from House Rules Reform to the opioid crisis response. As politics continues to drive House and Senate (Democrats and Republicans) further away from compromise, this group of over 50 bipartisan policymakers has been working behind closed doors on a compromise pandemic response plan that just might bring enough Members back to the table to make some progress.

The “March to Common Ground” framework provides compromises on the most controversial issues that have been stalling efforts between Congressional Democrats and the Trump Administration. This plan offers a compromise level of funding for state and local governments, splitting the difference between partisan lines in the sand, and would provide another round of direct stimulus payments for most Americans.

It also provides funding for COVID-19 testing, schools, childcare, and small business relief.  And, includes links relief to economic metrics, reducing aid if the pandemic subsides or extending it if it worsens.

Underscoring the partisanship in Congress, however, both Republicans and Democrats in leadership have dismissed this bill. While I am not naïve enough to believe this proposal would have been taken up immediately and passed wholesale, I was hopeful that some of the components would become real fodder for consideration by those who are integral in negotiating the final package. I still do believe that at least some portions of the package can be a starting point for further negotiations.

This pre-vetted bipartisan proposal is proof that the legislative process can still be functional. Perhaps a “moderate’s” role in the 2020s is to model responsible negotiating practices. This would provide Congress with compromise solutions to controversial topics with a built-in bloc of votes from both sides of the aisle. The House’s mediation apparatus if you will!

There will always be a role for the moderate voice in Congress. History shows us that there will be mechanisms for these voices to band together to gain traction. To me, now seems to a more important time than ever to give credence to these voices. 

Our Founding Partner, Governor Ridge, has always been lauded for his thoughtful approach and willingness to work with Republicans and Democrats alike. We carry this approach in our work at the Ridge Policy Group and enjoy working to achieve policy change that improves the lives of Americans, regardless of the Party who introduced the concept!

This blog post was written for Ridge Policy Group by Becky Wolfkiel. Becky is the Director of Federal Affairs, supporting our clients at the federal level who deem us a top government affairs firm.

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Ridge Policy Group

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