Rep. Patrick Murphy, United Solutions Caucus: “The pendulum is swinging back towards the center.”

A bipartisan group of freshmen members works to offer consensus solutions and change the culture of Congress.

Congressman Patrick Murphy (FL-18) is a founder of the bipartisan United Solutions Caucus, a group of new members in Congress. Image credit: Rep. Patrick Murphy
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Democratic Rep. Patrick Murphy (FL-18) came to Congress in 2012 after winning one of the most closely-watched races in the country. According to OpenSecrets.org, Murphy’s race drew more than $6.5 million in spending from outside groups, making it among the most expensive House races nationwide. He ultimately defeated Allen West with 50.3 percent of the vote.

Despite the partisanship that surrounded his election, Murphy says he is committed to promoting bipartisanship in Congress. Together with fellow freshman Republican Rep. Robert Pittenger (NC-9), Murphy co-founded the bipartisan United Solutions Caucus for new members of Congress. In February 2013, the group made headlines when 36 of its members signed a bipartisan letter to Speaker John Boehner and Leader Nancy Pelosi proposing a “grand bargain” on the federal deficit. Murphy and other members of the Caucus have also put forward the bipartisan SAVE Act, which the sponsors say would cut more than $200 billion in “wasteful, duplicative, or ineffective” government spending.

Murphy is also a member of the New Democrat Coalition and the No Labels Problem Solvers Caucus. This interview has been edited for length. 

 

R3.0: What prompted you to found the United Solutions Caucus?

Murphy: When you get elected to Congress, they separate the two parties right off the bat. There’s one mixer, but the Republicans do their briefings and the Democrats do theirs.

“I believe there’s always going to be a group of people who are willing to be bipartisan and work together.”
[In the beginning,] what you’re learning is very basic: you’re learning about safety; you’re learning about the rules of Congress; you’re learning about the mechanics of how to vote. But they do it in a partisan manner, and I just thought that was terrible. If you’re going to break down barriers, it’s got to be at the beginning before you get dug in.

Through friends of friends, I met a freshman Republican [Rep. Pittenger] and we started talking one evening about why we were in Congress. It turned out we both ran because we cared a lot about getting our fiscal house in order, and we came to the conclusion that we agreed on a lot of the solutions.

We then decided to bring in more likeminded people and ended up getting about 50 percent of the freshman class to sit together and talk about our priorities. We developed a framework in the United Solutions Caucus for a “grand bargain” that included tax reform, protecting Social Security and Medicare for future generations and dealing with waste, fraud, abuse and duplication. The result was the letter we delivered to Speaker Boehner and Leader Pelosi.

R3.0: What was the reaction from the House leadership?

Murphy: Both Speaker Boehner and Leader Pelosi were very receptive. Both of them made similar comments, unbeknownst to each other. I’ll paraphrase, but it was something to the effect of: “We may not agree with everything in your letter and every proposition, but the fact that you’re talking, getting to know each other, and looking at solutions is exactly what’s needed in Congress. That’s what used to happen here and is not happening anymore.”

It doesn’t mean they’ll put our solutions forward, but if nothing else, they view us as leaders in creating a group that’s different from what previous classes have done.

I will say that [other] Republican and Democratic members were tough on us. They said it was a waste of time and were actually mad at us for being bipartisan because they view this as warfare. Their only goal is to beat the other party, and they don’t like to see groups like this.

But it’s certainly a fight I’m willing to take on. If people don’t want to work with me because I’m bipartisan, so be it.

R3.0: Are these ultra-partisans a minority?

Murphy: I think they’re a minority. There are people who in their heart of hearts are more willing to be bipartisan and reach across the aisle.

But because their district is so gerrymandered, they find themselves in a tough position. They’re trying to set a balance between their own re-election and primary and doing what they think is best. They are always reminded that the only thing that matters for them is the primary. And oftentimes when you work across the aisle, that will be used against you.

R3.0: Has it been an advantage or a disadvantage to have founded the United Solutions Caucus as freshmen versus as veterans with more seniority?

Murphy: You really need to do this as freshmen. If you’ve been here 15 years or 10 years, it’s really hard to build new relationships.

You’re going to be “branded” at that point, and other people are going to be branded. People are going to be in their respective corners, with their respective politics. As people are around longer, you can see how they become more partisan, more focused on their party winning, and they start to get pressure not to work with the other party.

In the beginning is your best opportunity to break down those barriers, get to know each other and build some trust.

R3.0: What’s the future of the Caucus?

Murphy: We’ve lost some people, but there’s a core group of about 20 to 30 people in the freshman class who still talk constantly.

We’ve been trying to meet on a monthly basis to go over specific pieces of legislation but also, equally importantly, to try to change the culture. [We try] to get to know each other, to know something about each other’s families and about each other’s districts and priorities.

I think I’m an eternal optimist and believe there’s always going to be a group of people who are willing to be bipartisan and work together. I think it’s a constant challenge and you have to force to get to that common ground, but I actually think the pendulum is swinging in the right direction back towards the center. I think it went way left, way right and is now coming back to the middle.

When you look at 2006, 2008 and 2010, those were wave years – 2006 and 2008 brought in mainly Democrats, and 2010 was the opposite of that. When you look at 2012, it was actually a balanced group of 49 Democrats and 35 Republicans.

I think that speaks to [the wishes of] voters who witnessed what happened and the lack of action from a polarized Congress. “My way or the highway” does not work, and we need people who are willing to compromise.

So I think groups [like the United Solutions Caucus] are going to grow. If we don’t, you could end up with a very partisan Congress where nothing gets done.

R3.0: Some might argue that we’re already there.

Murphy: This has been a very unproductive Congress. However, we’ve gotten some things done – for example, the farm bill. It’s not perfect, but it’s important that it got passed. It helped a lot of people in our country and created some stability in that sector. The water bill [Water Resources Development Act] – that was a big win. Getting the budget passed – that was a big win. Of course things can get better, but things are trending in the right direction.

So many people in my district or around the country look at Congress and think that every single person there is partisan and polarized. That’s not the case. I’ve met a lot of great people in D.C. on both sides of the aisle who are fighting for the right thing. It’s exciting to see from the inside that there are a lot of people who do care. You have extremes on both sides of the aisle who are ruining it, but I think we’re getting past that.

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