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Moderates Might Be the Real Power in a Narrowly Divided Congress: Lawmakers



News Analysis

Republicans hold only ten more seats than Democrats in the 118th Congress, making passing legislation a challenging task without the assistance of moderates in the House, lawmakers from both parties told The Epoch Times.

“With a small Republican majority in the House and a Democrat-controlled Senate, I think Republicans and Democrats will be forced to work together even more than before.” Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) told The Epoch Times, “The fact is: If you want a bill to pass this Congress, it’s going to have to be bipartisan, and that can be a good thing.”

In a House so narrowly divided, the concern from lawmakers has been that particular ideological wings within the Republican Party, like the Freedom Caucus, could turn must-pass legislation into drawn-out battles to win concessions.

“Just like the far-left the Republicans have the far-right that say we’re not going to negotiate, we want it our way,” Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) told The Epoch Times. “There are some tough issues coming up.”

An example of how a small faction of Republicans could have a big impact on the party’s priorities in Congress is when Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) had to dole out major concessions to hardline conservatives to become Speaker of the House. It took 15 rounds of voting before Rep. McCarthy finally became speaker.

“I said congratulations on your quinceanera,” Cuellar said. “So you saw how determined the far right was and I think we’re going to see the same thing when they start negotiating with Democrats.”

One of the Republicans willing to reach out to Democrats on legislative issues is McCaul, who has co-sponsored a bill with Cuellar called the United States-Mexico Tourism Improvement Act.

“This year, I’ve already introduced bills with two Texas Democrats, Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee and Rep. Henry Cuellar,” said McCaul. “I was named the most effective Republican lawmaker of the previous Congress because I have always recognized the importance of bipartisan efforts. By reaching across the aisle, I’ve been able to pass legislation that combats human trafficking, increases funding for childhood cancer research, holds the Chinese Communist Party accountable, creates new job opportunities for Americans, and so much more.”

Debt Ceiling

One of the core demands of holdouts for McCarthy’s bid for the gavel was a major reduction in federal spending, a concession that McCarthy ultimately gave to hardline conservatives to win his speakership.

But now those concessions may be coming back to haunt him as a battle over raising the debt ceiling plays out between the House and the White House, with the main issue being a reduction in spending.

“The debt ceiling is one we’ve got to be careful with because that could affect the credit rating of the U.S. like we saw back in 2011,” said Cuellar.

In 2011, the United States faced a debt ceiling crisis that downgraded its credit rating when the Republican Party gained control of the House and demanded that former President Barack Obama negotiate over deficit reduction in exchange for an increase in the debt ceiling.

History seems to be repeating itself, as Republicans are again arguing for a reduction in federal spending before supporting a debt limit increase.

“The question is where do we cut? Education, Homeland [Security], or where?” Cuellar said. “I think we can sit down and help each other and work things out but it is going to be, at the beginning, it’s going to be a little rough even though we have Democrats and Republicans there are some that want to work together there are some that are in their fighting mode right now.”

The White House has made it clear it wants a clean increase on the debt ceiling without conditions. President Joe Biden and McCarthy are due to meet to discuss raising the debt limit.

The debt battle is an example of why bipartisanship will play a key role in passing important legislation over the next two years.

Moderate Groups

Though there are extreme ideological wings within the Republican and Democrat parties in the House, like the Freedom Caucus and the Congressional Progressive Caucus, there are also moderate groups as well which may hold the key to passing legislation during the next two years.

One group among Democrats is called the Blue Dog Coalition, which according to a statement on the caucus’s website is “comprised of 19 fiscally-responsible Democrats, who are leading the way to find commonsense solutions. They are pragmatic Democrats, appealing to the mainstream values of the American public. The Blue Dogs are dedicated to pursuing fiscally-responsible policies, ensuring a strong national defense for our country, and transcending party lines to get things done for the American people.”

The future of the Blue Dogs is uncertain, however, as several of their members did not win reelection during the polarized 2022 mid-term elections. Cuellar, a member of the group, was one of the few survivors.

Another moderate group that could hold the “keys to the castle” in a very narrowly divided congress where every vote counts are the Problem Solvers Caucus. The caucus is described as an “ independent member-driven group in Congress, comprised of representatives from across the country—equally divided between Democrats and Republicans—committed to finding common ground on many of the key issues facing the nation.”

The Problem Solvers Caucus, co-chaired by Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.) has been largely credited as being instrumental in passing the bipartisan infrastructure bill, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

Gottheimer even received praise from Biden during the signing of the bill, “Josh Gottheimer has been the best go-between I’ve had trying to get all of this done, whether it’s the Build Back Better portion or the infrastructure portion.”

Moderate representatives and groups like the Problem Solvers Caucus or the Blue Dog Coalition are expected to be more powerful in the 118th Congress, as McCarthy deals with the tightest House margin since World War II to pass legislation.



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