|In the May 2020 Analytic Insider (Vol. 7, Issue 4) I suggested that America’s political dynamics are best defined not by labels such as liberal versus conservative but by two camps: the Destructionists and the Constructionists. President Biden’s inaugural address places him squarely in the Constructionist camp—those who seek to join hands to build a better society. Many say, however, that the challenges he faces are insurmountable. I am more hopeful and believe these obstacles can be overcome. A key driver of future success may be how each house of Congress organizes itself to deal with at least four critical challenges now facing the country.
In this article, I propose a non-traditional solution: the emergence of blocks of Constructionists in each house that can work with their Democratic caucuses to successfully champion a bipartisan and bicameral agenda that moves the country forward. This positive scenario is based on three key assumptions:
- The President genuinely wants to unite the country and will push Congress to pass bipartisan legislation that addresses key needs relating to COVID-19, the economy, racial equity, and climate change.
- The majority of Republican congressmen will remain inclined to oppose the Biden agenda. After a possible short honeymoon in dealing with the COVID crisis, representatives in both houses will return to their respective party’s oppositionist ways. If the past is a harbinger of the future, it would not be surprising if in the coming months the Freedom Caucus seizes leadership of the Republican caucus in the House, and a similar far right coalition assumes control of the Republican agenda in the Senate.
- More moderate Republican and conservative Democratic congressmen have grown weary of gridlock and are eager to work in bipartisan ways to legislate solutions to the pressing problems that confront the nation.
Continuing polarization is expected by many, guaranteeing at least two more years of gridlock on the Hill. I do not believe, however, that this is inevitable. Gridlock can be avoided if a new, Constructionist focus of power emerges in both houses of Congress.
- In the Senate: An “independent” caucus already exists, including Sanders (VT) and King (ME). What if Democratic Senator Manchin (WV) joined this caucus and was joined, in turn, by Senators Collins (ME), Murkowski (AK), Sasse (NE), Romney (UT), and possibly a few others? This would convert a 50-50 Senate to a 47-46-7 body. The seven members of this Independent or Constructionist caucus would then hold the keys to power, providing the needed swing votes for legislation Biden wants to pass and, if successful, might even grow in strength.
- In the House: The Democrats possess a narrow majority but will have difficulty passing the Biden agenda without some Republican support. As in the Senate, a group of Republicans—including several freshmen such as Nancy Mace (SC)—could wield substantial influence if they split from the party and created their own “independent” or “conservative” caucus that collaborated with the Democrats to pass much-needed bipartisan legislation. Key participants could be Cheney (WY) and the congresspersons who voted for impeachment. Such a new Republican “Constructionist Caucus” could form the foundation for a new conservative party.
A safer political route forward for Constructionist Republicans would be to buttress the influence of the Problem Solvers Caucus—an independent group of Representatives formed in 2017 seeking common ground on key issues facing the country. The group is almost 50 members strong and equally divided between Democrats and Republicans.
Bottom line: What if Congressional politics shifted from a two-party system to a three-party system—or more realistically, a three-caucus system? Democrats would work with the Constructionists to negotiate and pass much needed legislation. The potential for such a shift would be greatly enhanced if the Republicans evolve toward increasingly obstructionist behavior. In that case, Congresspersons who aspire to pass needed legislation would have no choice but to either join—or agree to collaborate with—a Constructionist caucus to advance their agendas with bipartisan support.