Reps. Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.), Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.) and Reid Ribble (R-Wis.) hold a news conference to launch the bipartisan Fix Congress Now Caucus on May 16.
For one, caucuses have historically formed around issues for which there is already an identifiable constituency — new ones this year include the Congressional Anti-Bullying Caucus and Congressional Chicken Caucus, for example — rather than acting as the catalyst for change.
Secondly, the only thing more challenging than getting Members of Congress to pass legislation affecting the nation is getting Members of Congress to pass legislation affecting themselves.
“Congressional reform is a very difficult issue, and it doesn’t happen very often,” said Sarah Binder, a political science professor at George Washington University and a senior fellow at the bipartisanship-loving Brookings Institution. “So the likelihood that a single small caucus with a handful of junior Members is going to make a difference is not great. It’s not to say that these informal or sort of formalized groups can’t make a difference, it’s just that you’re up against some pretty steep barriers and institutional headwinds to any sort of reform.”
Cooper understands the nature of the battle, but he said the group is eager to press ahead.
“Some Members are more afraid of leadership than others, and Fix Congress Now is likely not going to be popular with each Member,” Cooper said.
That’s a fair assessment.
A growing number of lawmakers, in fact, don’t accept the narrative that what Congress suffers from is too much partisanship.
Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) and Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) have both made this point on multiple occasions, as have other Members.
Indiana GOP Senate candidate Richard Mourdock unseated six-term incumbent Sen. Dick Lugar in a primary last month while running a campaign calling for less compromise.
Compromise and bipartisanship, runs the counternarrative, are what got us in this mess in the first place. Real differences make for real arguments, and some differences can’t be split.
“We didn’t get to this point because there was gridlock and we didn’t get along,” said Rep. Joe Walsh (R-Ill.), a member of the Fix Congress Now Caucus. “I think the problem is we have Republicans and Democrats who did get along and they just kept willy-nilly increasing government and expanding programs.”
Walsh said he joined the caucus because he wants to speed up the process of getting a budget passed and he thinks the No Budget, No Pay Act and a more civil debate would spur Members to do their jobs.
“I don’t have a problem with gridlock,” Walsh said. “I think this place needs more gridlock. But you need the gridlock to be as respectful as it can.”
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.