Our View | ‘Problem Solvers’ sparks hope for political change

In a recent meeting with our editorial board, we found it refreshing to hear phrases such as “common ground” and “bipartisan” uttered by U.S. Rep. Glenn Thompson.

We have at times criticized the Howard Township Republican for marching in step with his party leadership when more willingness to compromise might bring results. And there are still issues on which we disagree.

Thompson continues to support voter ID laws, even though no data exists to show that there is widespread election fraud. Republican leaders have attempted to disguise their hopes that such laws would help their candidates win elections behind rhetoric about cleaning up the voting process.

We are also at odds with Thompson on details of gun ownership. He has opposed measures proposed since the Sandy Hook school shooting that would have made it harder for criminals and individuals deemed mentally ill to purchase weapons. Thompson opposed such a plan that was co-sponsored by Pennsylvania Republican Sen. Pat Toomey.

But we applaud Thompson’s place among about 100 House members and senators who call themselves the “Problem Solvers” bloc.

The movement is an offshoot of the “No Labels” project, a citizens’ movement that pushes for compromise and common-sense reforms. The group says one goal is to combat efforts by lobbying groups “to push our leaders and our political parties apart.”

“The idea is to come together and find common ground where we can work together,” Thompson said during a meeting last week with our editorial board. “You won’t necessarily agree on everything or on every issue. But even within an issue, there are things we can do to address the challenges that face the nation.”

Problem Solvers must agree to attend regular group meetings and discuss issues “across the aisle”; embrace “the right attitude,” meaning a willingness to get beyond all-or-nothing politics; and a commitment to being “a real leader,” based on “governing for the future, not the next election.”

Problem Solvers first went public in February, when the original 40 members wore buttons during President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address pledging that the 23 Democrats and 17 Republicans were “committed to fix, not fight.” Thompson was one of the original 40.

The group recently announced a package of nine bills under the slogan “Make Government Work!” aimed at reducing waste and inefficiencies.

“Some would have Americans believe that there is nothing but bickering and gridlock in Washington,” bloc member and Arkansas Republican House member Tim Griffin said in July. “It’s good to see that members of both parties — despite real and significant differences on many issues — can agree on some common-sense measures to save hard-working taxpayers’ dollars. It’s a first step, but a big step in the right direction.”

We agree, and we’re glad to see the local congressman involved.

“I don’t think the average American is looking for Democrats or Republicans,” Thompson said. “They’re looking for problem-solvers.”

Thompson said the group embraced the president’s plan to tie student loan interest rates to the market, and works together on veterans’ issues and other concerns.

“It’s a good open dialogue,” Thompson said. “Nobody’s asked to forfeit their principles. The idea is to communicate openly and find common ground.”

Thompson sees bipartisan efforts at work in the farm bill and even a proposed overhaul of No Child Left Behind that would put less pressure on teachers to teach to tests rather than curriculum and achievement.

“We’re trying to grow the caucus,” Thompson said. “We’re starting to approach one-quarter of Congress. We would need 218 in the House to pass anything.”

While party leadership is seldom inclined to compromise, we see No Labels and Problem-Solvers as positive developments. We hope their influence spreads upward through both Democrats and the GOP.

“The partisanship is still there at the macro level, where they’re always looking to the next election and who’s going to be in the majority,” Thompson said.

“At the micro level, there’s a lot of good bipartisan work that goes on. All of the bills I sponsor are bipartisan, because I truly believe that’s how it should be done. I reach out to different views to make sure I understand all aspects of a situation. When you put a bill together that way, you have a much lower chance that it’s going to be defeated or repealed.”

This is a movement worth supporting.

Who knows? Perhaps being involved in such an effort will lead our local congressman to embrace more opportunities to illustrate a spirit of bipartisan cooperation.