It’s time to have a Problem Solver Speaker of the House of Representatives. It may be the only viable solution to liberate ourselves from the stagnation strangling our experiment in democracy.
The red/blue duopoly isn’t blending in the middle to create purple progress. Instead, it is bleeding the life blood from what is left of our shattered government decision-making structures.
Rep.-elect Kevin McCarthy’s (R-CA) failure to garner the votes to become Speaker of the House is a window of opportunity for true transformation. The current trajectory is a stalemate that gives 20 extremists the power to hold Congress hostage with their petulant demands.
What if we created more “purple” from the entrenched reds and blues?
What would happen if more Congressional members liberated themselves from party puppetry? What if Congress chose a speaker and created an independent caucus to swing votes to break deadlocks?
These independent caucus swing votes could build on the current initiatives like the Bipartisan Working Group led by Reps.-elect Dean Phillips (D-3rd) and Dusty Johnson (R-SD). Fifty members of Congress participate to design consensus solutions.
Stagnated governance would cease. Toxic bipartisan dynamics would diminish.
An independent caucus could join with Democrat or Republican majorities based on policy issues that align with their agenda. Their independent status could provide a forum to prioritize policy issues over party loyalty.
Both parties would need to woo this caucus and speaker for their support. Without the support of the truly independent members, neither major party would be capable of passing significant legislation.
The odds of running as a member of a third party is daunting. But a third party isn’t the only road to travel. There was a time when many Democrats and Republicans celebrated their independence even as they hewed to core values of their respective parties. The responsible middle-ground representatives could identify as a major party candidate, just choose to not march in lockstep when the parties pursue extreme policies.
It changes the power and control tactics of Congressional leadership. Reps.-elect Hakeem Jeffries, Kevin McCarthy, Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Mitch McConnell (R-KY) could no longer brow beat individual members of Congress, they would have to take on the entire independent caucus.
Elected representatives would focus and commit to their constituents needs versus partisan political agendas. Members of Congress would no longer be able to hide behind party unity as an excuse for voting against constituent’s desires. It enhances constituents’ ability to hold their elected representatives accountable.
Our current democratic decision-making structure doesn’t work. As the Lakota Tribal Wisdom says, “when you discover you’re riding a dead horse, the best strategy is to dismount.”
Stagnation results in ritualistic inactivity. Congress goes through the motions of governance yet nothing gets accomplished. Governing has been reduced to an endless tug of war to maintain political party power and control. Both parties resist supporting initiatives of the ruling party so the majority party and sitting President can’t claim the legislative victory and use it for political advantage.
While McConnell is lionized as the master of obstruction, he and his fellow Republicans have no monopoly. Democrats are equally to blame. Many members of Congress feel shackled and frustrated that the bipartisan divide hampers them from achieving progress on their legislative priorities. Many are opting out as a result.
Former President Trump’s mob style control over the Republican Party has prioritized loyalty to him over any political platform. His threats and political capacity to mobilize his base keeps those who are unaligned with his character, strategies and policies shivering in fear.
Independent caucus members could liberate themselves (and their colleagues) from bullying tactics and strengthen Congress’ institutional spine through innovative policies and by cutting puppet strings. Voters will love them for it. All it takes is a courageous decision to declare independence.
Current efforts to swing votes, while well intended, have a woefully inept track record. In some cases, have simply exacerbated stagnation.
Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Krysten Sinema (I-AZ) are poster children for obstruction tactics in the Senate. They have thwarted Democrats’ attempts to gain consensus. While being attacked and demonized in some Democratic circles, they are heralded as heroes by Republicans and right-wing media. Both bathe in the political spotlight and media attention. The 20 “Never McCarthy” Republicans are the petulant obstructionists in the House. These factions are D.C.’s political power brokers. They have every incentive to maintain their “champions of obstruction” status. It benefits them personally and professionally. Lobbyists and conservative PACs are pumping a wealth of contributions to perpetuate their power.
Meanwhile, the Democratic Progressive Caucus has emerged as a collective force to be reckoned with. Their success has stalled the passage of the bipartisan Infrastructure Bill in order to leverage support for the Build Back Better Budget Reconciliation Bill. Their policy platform is a lightning rod for conservatives. Their left of center agenda is aligned with public opinion on core issues citizens’ support. Advocating for these policies becomes fodder for right wing conservatives. Democrats are branded as: “socialists/radicals/tax raisers and deficit creators.” Biden, Jefferies and Schumer know they won’t get anywhere without the Progressive Caucus.
Operating largely below the radar screen is the 50-member Bipartisan Working Group (25 Democrats and 25 Republicans). My Congressional representative, Dean Phillips, formerly co-chaired this working group. While the solutions are designed to break through deadlocks on issues, once on the floor of the Senate and House partisan politics prevail.
The prognosis for our bipartisan divide is the deadly demise of our experiment in democracy. Voter restriction efforts are spreading like an incurable cancer. Gerrymandering based on the 2020 Census will structure disenfranchisement of people of color. The New Jim Crow laws are designed to keep power and control on the hands of the privileged. The righteous, vitriolic and increasingly violent rhetoric between opposing camps are ingredients for insurrection or a civil war for one side to secure dominance over the other.
An independent House Speaker representing the Problem Solver Caucus provides a viable alternative that builds on success and can quickly mobilize to break through stagnation.
A cadre of committed independents in Congress is democracy’s vaccination against the virus of policy stagnation and extreme partisanship. It is the medicine that allows our country to move forward in addressing and solving our most pressing issues.
Tim Reardon is CEO of Che’ + Assisi Consulting in Plymouth.