While the Senate has shown its own attempts at bipartisanship this year, namely the “gang of six” led by Sens. Mark Warner (D-Va.) and Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), the House has offered no complementary effort. Boehner, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) have each made public statements urging the super committee to reach a broad agreement, but rank-and-file Members have not come together behind the same message.
One senior Democratic aide described the House letter as an attempt for Members to show there is support to pass a grand bargain that includes revenues, defense cuts and entitlement reform.
“There’s a sense that there’s bipartisan grass-roots support in the Senate for going big and doing it in a bipartisan way, and there hasn’t been the same evidence of that in the House, and there’s a sense that the House is more polarized,” the aide said. “I think it’s important to show there’s a similar group of bipartisan Members over here.”
Members of the Tuesday Group, of which Simpson is a member, and leaders of the Blue Dog Coalition, of which Shuler is a leader, met just before the October recess to discuss Simpson’s letter and other areas where the two groups could work together. Like other bipartisan coalitions that have searched for ways to collaborate this year, Rep. Mike Ross (D-Ark.) said the super committee gave the two groups a platform to come together.
“We’re working on this letter. We’re not having press conferences and beat[ing] our chest,” Ross said in a brief interview. “We’re trying to work on bringing both sides to the middle to get the job done.”
Ross, who is retiring next year, noted that Members on both sides have grown frustrated with the political stalemates that have dominated the Capitol this year. He acknowledged that moderates have been too quiet in their efforts at bipartisanship, but he said that with the approval of Congress at an all-time low, constituents need to see more public examples of collaboration on the Hill.
“While I think Members are focused on the super committee, I think it’s all related to this idea that our constituents think we’re not solving problems confronting us,” he said. “And Members on both sides of the aisle are hearing that. And so the sense is we really need to do something.”
Other Members have been feeling the squeeze, too. An informal group of lawmakers led by freshman Reps. John Carney (D-Del.) and Jim Renacci (R-Ohio) has been meeting for breakfast all year. Some of those participants have signed on to Simpson’s letter, although the two groups are not coordinating.