Shutdown a big test for Problem Solvers

If there was ever a time for the Problem Solvers Caucus to shine, this is it. The shutdown of the federal government is well into its second week after the House of Representatives, the Senate and President Donald Trump were unable to come to an agreement over the budget legislation, with the biggest disagreement coming over $5.7 billion Trump wants for a southern border wall (which he once promised Mexico would pay for).

On Dec. 19, Rep. Tom Reed, a Republican from western New York, joined with Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-New Jersey, and Problem Solvers Caucus co-chairman, to urge “leaders on both sides of the aisle to work together, in good faith, and find a solution to keep the government open. Americans expect and deserve much more than more gridlock and more shutdowns.”

The very next day, Reed joined with fellow Republicans in Congress to vote to provide funding for the border wall — something he had to know wouldn’t sit well with the very Democrats with whom Republican members of the Problem Solvers Caucus need to work. That makes us question Reed’s statement that he was “proud to vote to keep our government open for the American people.”

What’s more important — and, we hope, more telling of Reed’s intentions — is this quote from the same news release: “We need a functioning immigration system which allows properly vetted people to come here and work to provide for their families. I hope this is something I can work with my Democrat colleagues on this next Congress.” He reiterated those sentiments during a conference call with regional media outlets earlier this week, including saying, “There are areas of the border where truly a wall is the most effective tool. It’s a combination of everything.”

Recently the Problem Solvers Caucus scored a win by working with Democratic Party leader Nancy Pelosi and Rules Committee ranking member Jim McGovern, resulting in rules allowing more rank-and-file members of Congress to get legislation voted on while paving the way for Pelosi to ascend to the position of speaker of the House. That was indeed a nice piece of deal-making for the caucus.

The North Country’s congresswoman, Rep. Elise Stefanik, supported that deal. She is not a member of the Problem Solvers Caucus but is a leader in the Tuesday Group, made up of moderate Republicans, and prides herself on being bipartisan. For instance, she tweeted Monday, “I represent an ideological diverse district and I am proud of that fact. And I work hard to listen to their perspectives and ideas.”

Now it’s time to see if the Problem Solvers Caucus is ready to help crack a tougher nut: the controversy over the border wall and, with it, the government shutdown. Can they help build the two-thirds majority needed to override a presidential veto?

We are hopeful. While loyalty and opposition to the president are strong factors in Congress, we believe many members are also driven by a professional urge to solve problems — and immigration has long been one of our nation’s most problematic systems. No solution is going to make everyone happy, but it is possible to develop laws that make things more functional, understandable, humane, fair and safe, while also welcoming immigrants in reasonable ways. That will require more acceptance of the ideological diversity Stefanik speaks of — the notion that even if we don’t agree, we have to live with and make accommodations for each other.

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