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Let's Get Along: House Freshmen Embrace Bipartisan Comity

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Murphy and other freshmen plan to form a bipartisan caucus to work toward solutions.

If the tea party class of 2010 was elected to stand athwart trillion-dollar deficits, yelling “Stop!,” the 2012 class seems to think it was elected to give peace a chance.

“This freshman class is going to work in a bipartisan manner. We’re not the last Congress — that was the ‘my way or the highway’ mentality. We want to work together,” said freshman Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Fla.

Murphy and Rep. Robert Pittenger, R-N.C., are leading a group of just-elected lawmakers who say they bonded at recent orientation events for new Members. When their surprising comity and good will kept coming up in conversations, they decided to make it a formal thing.

At a news conference Thursday, the freshmen released a Feb. 13 letter signed by 31 members calling for spending cuts and new revenue to “secure the fiscal health of our Nation.” A larger group of freshmen will be forming a new caucus tentatively titled United Solutions.

“I think, one, we just like each other! We really enjoy each others’ company,” said Rep. Eric Swalwell of California.

“Normally when new classes come to Congress you’ll see an imbalance heavily tilted towards Republicans or Democrats. This class, they’re almost evenly divided [in number]. And I think that played a role in us coming together,” he added.

The letter was met by a skeptical press corps, which asked whether the agreement on broad concepts would wither on the vine when talk turned to details.

“This is a framework. This is the idea that we are going to come together and begin to kick around some ideas and put everything on the table,” said Murphy, who defeated tea party favorite Allen B. West in November.

Introducing actual legislation, Pittenger said, is “really not the intent of our group.”

The letter tilts toward the GOP’s focus on spending cuts. The political significance of the movement seems to be the willingness of freshman Democrats to embrace changes to entitlement programs, which Pittenger attributed in part to a private speech given to the lawmakers by Peter Orszag in which the former Obama budget chief scolded lawmakers on the need to reform Social Security and Medicare.

But the letter’s vague language — it named no particular changes — may land it in the ash heap of endless congressional letters.

“There’s a reason the letter isn’t specific” on spending cuts and new revenues, said former Rep. Steven LaTourette, a moderate Republican who left the House in January, lamenting the polarizing climate and deteriorating bipartisanship there.

LaTourette said that while he admired the group’s efforts, “I doubt they’re gonna find allies in either party’s leadership.”

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