A new bipartisan gang in Congress has gained respect and leverage after jump-starting critical negotiations on a massive coronavirus aid package.
The House and Senate appeared likely to postpone a new round of significant federal spending after months of stalled talks, but a group of 60 Republican and Democratic lawmakers in the House and Senate forced a deal now poised to pass before Christmas.
“We’re responding to that silent majority, that voice of America, that’s saying, ‘Enough is enough,'” Rep. Tom Reed, a New York Republican and co-chairman of the bipartisan House Problem Solvers Caucus, told the Washington Examiner.
The caucus joined with a group of eight senators to draft a bipartisan package, announcing it at a news conference in the Capitol and calling on leadership to bring it up for a vote this month. A few more senators joined the gang last week, further increasing its leverage.
“To everybody that’s watching: First of all, make sure that you understand that bipartisanship and compromise is alive and well in Washington,” said Sen. Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat and co-author of a bipartisan bill, when announcing the proposal.
Democratic and Republican leaders were spurred to put aside their differences this month and strike a deal after a nationwide spike in the coronavirus caused a rise in deaths and hospitalizations and prompted a new round of economically devastating lockdowns.
But the long-stalled compromise was primarily facilitated by the bipartisan group members who banded together and wrote the proposal.
The $908 billion package unveiled on Dec. 1 put more pressure on leaders in the House and Senate to return to negotiations and act before the end of the year rather than wait until the Biden administration takes office at the end of January.
When talks continued to stall, the bipartisan group rewrote the package a week later, offering a second proposal that stripped out the most contentious parts of the legislation addressing state and local funding and lawsuit liability reform.
The measure included expanded unemployment and critical small-business loans, among other provisions.
Manchin held up the pared-down proposal at a televised press conference Tuesday and demanded a vote.
“Basically, this is ‘help is on the way,'” said Manchin, hoisting the legislative text. “Tell the American people, ‘Help is on the way.’ It’s here. There’s not a reason why our leadership should not take this up immediately and pass it. And it’s not that we should not go home for Christmas. We will not go home for Christmas until we pass legislation that gives relief to the American people.”
While bipartisan groups have had limited success in Congress in recent years, this group is on track to claim victory because lawmakers in both chambers joined in.
The House Problem Solvers Caucus, made up of 25 Democrats and 25 Republicans, led the effort to draft senators and write the coronavirus aid package.
Reed said Thursday that Congress was on track to pass much of the proposal.
“The deal is following the framework we’ve laid out,” he said.
Reed said the newly forged relationship between the bipartisan groups in the House and the Senate wouldn’t end when Congress adjourns for the year.
“In the next Congress, you are going to see the Problem Solvers Caucus carry that commitment to governance as we go forward,” Reed told the Washington Examiner. “And when we can be a resource, we’ll be a conduit between leadership and will encourage leadership to find that common ground. We will deploy the 50-plus strong of us in the Problem Solvers Caucus, and now this relationship with the Senate, to say we’re here to solve this problem. And we’re here to solve this problem by always putting the American people first.”