Will the Problem Solvers Caucus overcome its first major hurdle to pass the infrastructure bill?

LosAngeles-Freeway
President Joe Biden’s infrastructure proposal was pushed through this summer in part because of a ragtag group of House Republicans who made deals. That does not imply that they will all vote in favor of it.
Who are they?
The Problem Solvers Caucus, a roughly 50-member moderate group, found its way into Biden’s multibillion-dollar negotiations with some like-minded Senate Republicans this summer. While the specific involvement of the group in securing a Senate agreement is unknown, several of the House members, including Republicans, claim to have played a key role.
Democrats — and even some Republicans — in the group are now appealing with their GOP colleagues to reject a ferocious whipping campaign by their own party and support the infrastructure package that will be debated on the House floor on Monday.
Moreover, it’s not only the infrastructure bill that may be jeopardized if those GOP votes don’t show up on the floor next week; a group of progressives has threatened to stop it unless additional concessions are made on a larger, political spending plan.
In the chaotic floor debate over Biden’s agreement, the Problem Solvers Caucus is putting its own existence on the line. A plan to fund roads and bridges that has the support of both the Democratic president and the Senate GOP leader is perhaps the most visible example of the group’s objective.
The Bill

Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-N.J.), a member of the coalition encouraging their colleagues to support the bill, said, “This bipartisan infrastructure bill was essentially a Problem Solvers product.”

“It would not be an argument in favor of bipartisanship for the Republicans who are part of that [bill] to turn their backs on it now.” 

According to legislators in both parties who are keeping an unofficial whip count, around ten Republicans are anticipated to vote for the infrastructure package, virtually all of whom are Problem Solvers members. However, because of the unpredictability of Democratic dynamics, the exact number is still unknown.

Rep. John Katko (R-NY) stated plainly why he voted yes: “I helped write it.”

While a tiny segment of the GOP is anxious to show that bipartisanship is alive and well, it’s a difficult vote for many moderate House Republicans, who are under strong pressure from party leaders not to give Biden a win, which may jeopardize their prospects of winning the House. 

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s whipping operation, according to one Republican, is “powerful.”

In addition, rep. Tom Reed (R-NY), one of the group’s early co-chairs, said “From a caucus perspective, we’re going to be there. Not everybody, but we’re going to have a sizable showing. And that’s a good thing.”

He added, “Substantively, it’s a pretty solid bill.” 

Approval from the Republican Problem Solvers or other members would entail violating the party’s official opposition to the plan. McCarthy told the media on Thursday that he no longer sees it as a bipartisan bill and that he will urge his members to vote no because of the Democrats’ plans to pack it with a larger social spending measure.
Reps. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.) and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.), the group’s co-chairs, have been stirring up support behind the scenes, lobbying as many of their 29 GOP colleagues to vote for the bill as possible.
This was the major topic of discussion at a prolonged meeting of the group earlier this week, during which many Democrats in the room pitched their GOP colleagues. Many people emphasized the importance of the bill, as well as the value of bipartisanship in general, in a year when Republican-Democrat ties have deteriorated dramatically.
Problem Solvers members were eager to show progress on the infrastructure bill even after the dark days after Jan. 6, when legislators from opposing parties were on the verge of outright battle. Throughout the spring and summer, the group’s leaders engaged in discussions about infrastructure with the White House, as well as Senators Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), Rob Portman (R-Ohio), and others.
For months, those groups engaged informally and formally on the topic, including during an overnight summit at Maryland Governor Larry Hogan’s house. They took the cooperation so seriously that when Democratic leaders began publicly linking infrastructure to their party’s political agenda, House GOP legislators were outraged, and some Problem Solvers secretly considered resigning. None of them succeeded in the end.

The Problem Solvers have dealt with a number of issues that have divided the caucus in the past. The House voted earlier this year on whether to form a bipartisan, independent commission to examine the Jan. 6 insurgency, which was one of the most difficult decisions in the group’s history.

Katko, a member of the group, reached an agreement with House Homeland Security Committee Chair Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) on a bill to establish the independent commission, which would have banned current members of Congress from serving on the panel and required it to deliver a report by the end of the year.
However, former President Donald Trump interfered, and McCarthy eventually advised his caucus to vote no, openly dumping Katko and enraging many of his conference’s moderates. 35 Republicans voted for the commission in the end, including 18 members of the Problem Solvers Caucus, many of whom stated they voted yes to support Katko.
Democrats in the group say they’re hoping for just as many Republicans, if not more, to vote yes on infrastructure as they did on the commission.
Members of the GOP Problem Solvers aren’t the only ones indicating that they’ll likely vote for the plan. Reps. Nicole Malliotakis (N.Y.) and Jeff Van Drew (N.J.) both said that they were leaning toward supporting the bill.
“It’s like every other bill. There are good things, and not so good things.” In an interview, Malliotakis remarked, “And you have to balance it with your district and see what would be the best vote.”
Fitzpatrick noted, though, that the GOP dynamics may have changed drastically by then, with Democratic leaders hoping to put both the infrastructure and wider funding bills to the floor next week.

He said “So many people’s decision depends on how the process plays out.”

“There’s a lot of people who support infrastructure, who may not be in love with the bill but they’re OK with it. But they want nothing to do with the $3.5 trillion.” 

At time of publishing, the vote has been delayed until Thursday 30 October.

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