While the idea of a centrist third party is an idea whose time has come, it may take some time before that goal can come to fruition. In the meantime, the stagnation of our political leaders will prevent any real progress in addressing the needs of the American people.
There is something that can be done right now that can result in progress. In fact, the circumstances have aligned so that now may be the best opportunity to actually do something to make change happen. That something is to use the influence of the moderates in our country to encourage the formation of an independent block in the US Senate that can effectively force that institution to actually govern. That is because the balance of power is so thin. and the existence of a moderate caucus could control the direction of legislation. In fact, it could be proactive in pushing forward a moderate agenda, and for the first time in decades actually address the real challenges that we face in the not too distant future, such as structural issues with the funding of Social Security and Medicaid, the reality of climate change, and the fiscal concerns of continually increasing deficits.
Currently, the Senate consists of 52 Republicans, 46 Democrats and two Independents that caucus with the Democrats (Bernie Sanders and Angus King). This alignment could change before the 2018 election, depending upon the outcome of the special election in Alabama, if the Democratic candidate wins, there will be only 51 Republicans in the Senate.
So what would happen if two or three Republicans and two or three Democrats came together and agreed to vote as a centrist block? If that caucus were created, they would represent the controlling interest in the Senate. Mitch McConnell would not be able to force any legislation through without the agreement of that group, given the current state of polarization in our government. The most likely Democrats he might be able to sway are the Democrats that would be in that caucus.
There is already a blueprint for such a caucus. In the House, there is the Problem Solver's Caucus, made up of 20 Republicans and 20 Democrats. This is an organization that has been created with the assistance and encouragement of No Labels, They have agreed to vote as a block if 50% of Republicans, 50% of Democrats, and 75% of the entire caucus agree on an issue. They have focused on specific issues, and have presented moderate solutions to fixing the health care legislation and tax reform.
The possibility of a similar caucus in the Senate took a step forward last week when Senators Susan Collins and Joe Manchin agreed to be national co-chairman for No Labels. This reflects a willingness to consider the same type of approach in the Senate that has been taken with the Problem Solvers Caucus in the House.
Serving as co-chairman is not the same as the formation of a caucus completely independent of the two parties, but it is a step in that direction. So now is the time for those radical moderates among us to give them the impetus to help move them and others in that direction. If we could inundate those two Senators, and other Senators who are closest to the middle, to form such a caucus, then perhaps we could prevent some of the more disastrous legislative proposals that are threatening our country.
An effective letter writing campaign to Senators Collins, Manchin, Murkowski, Heitcamp, and McCain might be the most effective effort toward a moderate agenda in the near future. Depending upon its effectiveness, it might be the best way to get a Centrist, independent movement started on a national level with existing, recognized leaders.
I intend to send my letters off this week; I hope others will join the effort to see if it can make a difference.
Steve, a native Texan, has been practicing Elder law in his hometown of Fort Worth for over 40 years.