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.
It’s not just moderates looking to collaborate. Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.), a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, and Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.), chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, count themselves as supporters of the Simpson-Shuler letter. Welch has made his own attempts at bipartisanship this year, forming a coalition of Members from hurricane-ravaged states in September. In June, he struck an unlikely partnership with conservative Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) to push for a withdrawal of troops in Afghanistan.
“Below the surface and all the combat, I think there’s a growing awareness among Members on both sides of the aisle that this standoff we’re having, where every vote is party line and we don’t get anything done, is really creating an immense amount of frustration among our constituents,” Welch said.
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