Reed sees Problem Solvers as a beacon of hope

While Congress is in recess for the month of August, Rep. Tom Reed, R-Corning, has been busy talking to constituents throughout his 23rd Congressional District. Reed recently sat down with the OBSERVER to share recent progress of the Problem Solvers, the wave-making bipartisan caucus he co-chairs.

Reed is no stranger to the practice of reaching across the aisle for support. In light of recent allegations against Rep. Chris Collins, R-Clarence, Reed and Rep. Kathleen Rice, D-New York, introduced a resolution that will prevent members of Congress from serving on boards of publicly traded companies. “Kathleen Rice and I got together on this idea. This is an improvement I think we can use off this situation right from the get-go.”

Although the Problem Solvers caucus, which Reed co-chairs with Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-New Jersey, has not formally addressed ethics issues, he is hopeful about the progress in several other areas. The caucus is made up of 48 representatives, 24 Democrats and 24 Republicans, who have been working to bring issues to the floor that may not otherwise be heard due to house leadership.

“Members have brought issues to the caucus; outside folks have brought issues to the caucus because they see us as the only bipartisan group that’s functioning where we actually have debates, we have input, we have a reputation of being the area where you can identify common ground, in our forum.”

One such group of “outsiders” was President Trump’s adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner; former Obama administration official and CNN commentator, Van Jones; and Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist. The surprising trio pitched a prison reform bill to the caucus in May. “Those three folks in a room?” Reed laughed. “I knew we were on to something when we were able to convene that type of ideological spectrum united on a cause of prison reform.”

Reed said that Chautauqua County residents would be most interested in the caucus’ Break the Gridlock reform package, which was announced a few weeks ago. He said that the caucus’ biggest challenge is getting bills to the floor, as extremists can thwart seemingly high-support issues by motioning to vacate the chair. The proposed rule changes say the group will “reward openness and transparency, encourage a willingness to reach across the aisle, create debate on divisive issues, and empower lawmakers to find real solutions concerning our nation’s most pressing matters.” To achieve these goals, new rules would be implemented, including requiring a three-fifths supermajority to approve legislation under ‘closed rules,’ forcing the Rules Committee to consider any legislation cosponsored by two-thirds of the House’s members and giving high priority to bipartisan legislation for full consideration by House committees.

So how exactly do Reed and others intend to bring this package into reality? “I’m withholding my speaker (of the House) vote only for those candidates who support the Break the Gridlock package that we’ve put together. That is getting a lot of attention in D.C. right now. I’ve gotten a lot of phone calls and a lot of taps on the shoulder on the floor of the House by people saying, ‘I’m interested in what you’re doing there. Can you deliver those votes?” He went on to say, “I have publicly said that I will support a democratic candidate who supports the rule reform. That’s like treason,” Reed exclaimed, referring to his political party. “But I’ve gone all in on what we’re doing with the Problem Solvers caucus…I share the frustration of the American people that this institution needs to change.”

OBSERVER Publisher John D’Agostino referenced a speech that Reed made last year at the Clarion about bringing the country together. “Has it gotten better since then?” D’Agostino asked.

“No,” Reed replied. “We’re trying to do what we can…our work in the Problem Solvers caucus has united some folks. It has been a beacon of hope to me, personally, because I get House members coming up to me saying they want to be a part of it…As I travel the country, I’m sensing that momentum is starting to pick up where folks — not only grass roots, but also major stakeholders — are saying, ‘This has to end. We’ve got to start coming together.’ So, we’re not there yet but we’ve got to start somewhere.”

Reed reflected on 9/11 and how it was a time when both Democrats and Republicans “shed their shields” to come together as a nation. “I hope, God forbid, that’s not what it takes to bring us together again.” Speaking of what he refers to as “the silent majority of Americans,” Reed concluded, “They’re tired of the extremes on both sides — left and the right… The Problem Solvers caucus is tapping into this silent majority…it’s becoming a national movement. Stay tuned on that because you’re going to be starting to see a lot of that come out, especially with the speaker’s election.”