Congress centrists prepare negotiating plan in divided government

“The center will always be where people need to come together to do anything,” the senator said. Joe Manchin (DW.Va.) said Sunday. If Senate Democrats “can’t basically find nine reasonable, moderate, centrist Republicans who want to get something done in the next Congress here … then it’s just going to be a dead end,” he added.

In interviews Sunday during the No Labels confab, Manchin and Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said their work won’t stop just because it might be harder to convince McCarthy’s majority to pass legislation. They admitted that their work might look a little different this Congress.

That’s mostly thanks to tricky leadership politics: McCarthy barely won the presidency after a brutal in-party battle and could easily find his job on the line if he compromises with Democrats, especially on the immigration. Manchin has already met with McCarthy and Collins plans to request a meeting soon. Senate Majority Leader chuck schumer and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell facilitated the market aspirations of centrists like Collins and Manchin in the last Congress, going against their partisan reputation.

But the array of challenges facing lawmakers this year doesn’t help either. Now the top Republican on the Appropriations Committee, Collins described the tasks of the No Labels-aligned centrists as more pressing than simply seeking consensus on issues that have long plagued Congress, like the border.

She said her allies must also be prepared to maintain government funding and raise the debt ceiling if McCarthy and President Joe Biden fail to reach an agreement.

“We focus more on the problems. Now, focusing on the issues, we are obviously discussing the possibility of political agreements and negotiations,” Collins said in an interview. “In a way, No Labels is designed to deal with a divided government.”

Sense. Kirsten Sinema (I-Arizona) and Bill Cassidy (R-La.) were scheduled to attend the Florida meeting, as were representatives from Texas. Henry Cuellar (D), Tony Gonzales (R) and Vicente Gonzalez (D), with immigration at the center of the concerns of the deputies and of Sinema. Collins attended via Zoom.

Manchin said he is also consulting closely with leaders of the Reps-led Problem Solvers Caucus. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.) and Josh Gottheimer (DN.J.).

It is the continuation of a surprising resurgence of the political center in Washington, albeit with uncertain prospects. The centrist group’s first breakthrough came in the final days of the Trump administration, when senators struck a deal on $900 billion in Covid aid. After stops and starts once Biden became president, a rotating cast of bipartisan senators helped draft new laws on infrastructure, gun safety, microchips, voter count law reform and the protection of same-sex marriage.

Now Collins’ job is to reform appropriations so that some spending bills are tabled well before the September 30 deadline to fund the government, a difficult tightrope to walk but popular demand in both houses . Without more ground action on the spending bills, the prospects of an interim spending bill — or worse, a halt — rise.

“I have yet to speak to a Democrat or Republican in either body who thinks the current system of a gigantic, late-year-end spending bill serves Congress well or the country,” Collins said.

She discussed the issue with the Senate Appropriations Chairman Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Chairman of House Credits Kay Granger (R-Texas) and ranking member of this panel, Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.).

Manchin specifically mentioned energy permit reform as an area McCarthy is prepared to pursue; last year’s tax, climate and health care bill he crafted included a side deal on leave that many Republicans and some Democrats opposed, leaving the matter in the limbo. Manchin said McCarthy’s view is that “clearance is something we all know needs to be done” in order to expedite construction of the project.

In his capacity as chairman of the Senate Energy Committee, Manchin spoke with the chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee. Bruce Westerman (R-Ark.) and plans to speak with Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman soon Cathy McMorrisRodgers (R-wash.).

The West Virginian still believes that the 2013 Gang of Eight bill should form the basis of any immigration reform plan, emphasizing the border security component of this bill. Sinema and Sen. Thomas Tillis (RN.C.) are already trying to strike a deal in this space.

Spokeswoman Hannah Hurley said Sinema is committed to working with lawmakers “on both sides of the aisle and in both houses of Congress and making measurable and meaningful progress on bipartisan solutions to the crisis at our border”.

And Manchin is open to a Republican-preferred piecemeal immigration reform effort if that’s what it takes: “I’ll take whatever I can get that’s productive and promising.”

Whether Manchin or Sinema will run for re-election or follow in the footsteps of their friend Rob Portman, the Republican senator from Ohio who retired in the last Congress, remains to be seen. Manchin said he hoped the point was moot given the stakes and the players.

“We can’t have a bipartisan conversation, because you might take credit for it. It could help you get re-elected. It’s a crazy thing. Crazy, crazy mentality,” Manchin said of some colleagues’ reluctance to work across the aisle. “You are elected to the Senate for a six-year term. You better work for six years to do the right thing, rather than just four years.

In addition to current elected officials, No Labels also invited a contingent of former Florida officials, many of whom have been involved with the group for years. Among them were: the ancient Senses. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Bob Corker (R-Tenn.); former governors. Larry Hogan (R-Md.), Bill Haslam (R-Tenn.), Pat McCrory (RN.C.), Deval Patrick (D-Mass.) and Tim Pawlenty (R-Minn.); and former Reps. Mick Mulvaney (RS.C.), Max Rose (DN.Y.) and Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, who recently left the Democratic Party.


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