How Trump Can Break the Gridlock

Mar 29, 2017
In the News

WSJ: How Trump Can Break the Gridlock
By: William Galston

Donald Trump wasn’t elected to perpetuate the ideologically driven gridlock of the past six years. But his decision to pursue a one-party approach on health care threatened to do just that. Now that this approach has failed, however, Mr. Trump has an opportunity to begin again with a more inclusive strategy, as many members of his own party are urging.

Pennsylvania Rep. Charlie Dent, a leader of the center-right Republican Tuesday Group, told NBC on Sunday that “in order to reform health care in this country, we are going to have to do it in a durable, sustainable way and in a bipartisan manner.”

Ohio’s Gov. John Kasich declared the same day on CNN that “you cannot have major changes in major programs affecting things like health care without including Democrats from the very beginning.” Mr. Kasich placed this point in a broader context: “The Republicans tried to do it with just Republicans. It doesn’t work like that in our country. We are not a parliamentary system.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham, speaking Saturday at a town hall in Columbia, S.C., said that what should happen next is that “the president should reach out to Democrats, I should reach out to Democrats, and we should say ‘Let’s get a shot at doing this together, because it ain’t working doing it by ourselves.’ ” Maine’s Sen. Susan Collins expressed optimism about this strategy: “With the demise of the House bill, there’s a real window of opportunity for a bipartisan approach to health care.”

Why didn’t the House Freedom Caucus support the GOP health bill? “I have no idea,” Mick Mulvaney, President Trump’s budget director, told NBC on Sunday. “I know the Freedom Caucus. I helped found it. I never thought it would come to this.” Mr. Mulvaney must have slept through the events that culminated in John Boehner’s resignation.

The question now is whether the Trump administration will allow its entire agenda to be held hostage by a minority faction of Republicans who will accept nothing less than policy purity—as they define it. This is the inevitable consequence of trying to legislate with the votes of only one party. But there are signs that the White House is contemplating a course correction. “This president is not going to be a partisan president,” Chief of Staff Reince Priebus told Fox News. “It’s time to potentially get a few moderate Democrats on board.”

It is not clear, however, that Mr. Priebus understands the implications of his statement. Real bipartisanship means getting the parties together around a table at the beginning of the legislative process. Asking Democrats to sign on to bills that Republicans have already drafted won’t work; not enough of them will break ranks to change the dynamic.

In today’s polarized climate, real bipartisanship needs to make it impossible for the most intransigent forces to veto potential agreements. This means building coalitions from the center out, beginning with the forces in both parties that do not reject the very legitimacy of compromise.

If the White House gets serious about this approach, it won’t need to start from scratch. Thirty-six representatives, evenly balanced between Democrats and Republicans, have formed the independent Problem Solvers Caucus, co-chaired by New Jersey Democrat Josh Gottheimer and New York Republican Tom Reed. (Full disclosure: I am a co-founder of No Labels, a bipartisan group that some years ago set in motion the process that led eventually to the formation of this caucus.)

Many of these elected officials have been working together across party lines for years and can boast some modest legislative successes. Now they are developing common approaches to many of the forthcoming issues, beginning with the resolution to continue government funding beyond its current expiration date of April 28.

On Feb. 8, all 36 Problem Solvers sent President Trump a letter requesting a meeting to discuss where they could work together with his administration. The signatories pointed out that “the most consequential and long-lasting reforms are usually bipartisan, from the passage of Social Security and Medicare to the last time comprehensive tax reform in 1986 was achieved.”

They declared their willingness to begin working immediately with the White House on tax reform and infrastructure legislation. “Addressing either issue on a broad bipartisan basis,” they said, could “give a significant boost to our economy and provide Americans with confidence that government can work for them.” As Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R., Ill.), a member of the Problem Solvers, recently said: “I think that’s going to have to be the new coalition.”

If Mr. Trump wants a strategy that can break the gridlock and promote the common good, he knows where he can start.

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