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May 23, 2019   |   Ithaca, NY

News

Q&A: Reed talks rules reform and government shutdown

U.S. Rep. Tom Reed (R-NY), who represents Ithaca and the rest of District 23 and won re-election last November, made headlines for his push for rules reforms in Congress after the midterm elections.

Shortly after the midterm elections Nov. 15, he said he was open to voting for Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) as speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives if she embraced the Break the Gridlock rules reform package, which the Problems Solvers Caucus unveiled last July.

Break the Gridlock sought to tweak the rules in Congress to give more power to members who are not congressional leaders and to make it easier to pass legislation that Republicans and Democrats can agree on. Two of the main reforms included a “consensus calendar” that ensures any legislation that has 290 or more co-sponsors will automatically go to the floor for a vote and makes the discharge petition easier to use. Both of these reforms give ordinary members more ways to circumnavigate the House leadership to get a vote on legislation they write.

While Reed did not vote for Pelosi as speaker, he did cross party lines when he voted for the rules reform package with two other Republicans, a situation that is rare for this type of legislation. The rules reform was written by Democrats and made adjustments to how Congressional operations occur and included many of the reforms Reed and the Problem Solvers Caucus had asked for in their Break the Gridlock proposal.

With the start of the new Congress already underway, Assistant News Editor Ryan King spoke to Reed about rules reform, what he hopes to accomplish during his new term in Congress and his thoughts on the government shutdown.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Ryan King: To start, can you talk about why you feel that rules reform is important and how big this rules reform package was that you voted on compared to others?

Tom Reed: Obviously, I’m very supportive of what we’re doing with Break the Gridlock and trying to get away from this speaker-leader driven organization that the House of Representatives has become and empower members to have the ability to govern by way of consensus and not be punished for it, but be rewarded for it. So the rules reforms that were negotiated primarily by our Democratic colleagues in the Problem Solvers Caucus, I wanted to say to them and to Nancy Pelosi’s leadership, that we appreciated that and I think that’s a great step in the right direction to get the House working for the people again and making sure that it becomes more of a member-driven organization as opposed to a top-down organization as it has become. So I was willing to crossover and send a message that I appreciate this. This is a good faith gesture, I hope, and also a substantive gesture to say, ‘Hey, let’s build off this success.’

RK: You had previously mentioned the possibility of voting for Nancy Pelosi as speaker if she supported some of the reforms you guys came up with. Why didn’t you vote for her?

TR: Just to be clear, I was open to supporting Nancy Pelosi with the full embracement of the Break the Gridlock package, which had additional reforms that didn’t get into the rules package. And also, what I was willing to do if she implemented those entire rules reforms, then I would be open to supporting her for speaker of the house. That didn’t occur. A lot of the negotiations were led by our Democratic colleagues on the caucus, and she also made it very clear publicly that she was not looking for Republican votes. … Taken those two things together, I didn’t think it was prudent or wise or right for me to support her on the floor, and that’s why I voted for Kevin McCarthy.

RK: Going forward, what do you think are some of the big things that you are hoping to accomplish during this term of Congress? Any signature issues?

TR: I think there’s an opportunity for common ground on issues like health care costs, not necessarily health insurance reforms, but things like drug pricing for Americans. … I think infrastructure is something I am very interested in being part of, pushing forward. We in the Problem Solvers Caucus came to a consensus position on infrastructure, which shows that you can bring people together. Those, to me, are the top two issues that rise on the immediate, short-term horizon as something we can get done. But going forward, we are looking for opportunities. Health care costs, education costs when it comes to college costs, that is something I have been pushing and will continue to push because we are making college unaffordable, and this bubble that is being created has to come to an end.

RK: What are your thoughts on the government shutdown?

TR: Obviously, this is not a situation I would like to see us in at the federal level. I think the debate is highlighting the political extremism that is overtaking Washington, D.C., where it seems extreme political bases have to be attended to before the American people. Now it’s time to set this aside. I hope over the short-term — and I think this is the situation we will find ourselves in as political pressure builds against the untenable positions that both sides on the hard right and hard left have taken — is that we are seeing the formation of a deal to be struck. You know border security. It’s going to take the construction of a wall in part. It’s going to take much more than that. Border security seems to be the common landing point, and these folks that are caught up in the semantics of the wall that is, to me, emblematic of the problem. … Hopefully both sides will take a deep breath over the next few days, recognize that you cannot stay in these positions of us versus them, and let’s find some common ground and get it done.

RK: Do you have any plans to come to Tompkins County this year?

TR: Not off the top of my head, but of course we will be there. … Love to come through town, and I’m sure we will be there in the near future.

Ryan King can be reached at rking5@ithaca.edu