Ribble joins bipartisan group

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Ribble joins bipartisan group

Premiere Date: 
January 24, 2013

Congressman Reid Ribble discusses his role in a bipartisan group of legislators.

 

Episode Transcript: 

Zac Schultz:

Congressman Ribble, thanks for joining us.

Reid Ribble:

I'm glad to be here. Thanks, Zac.

Zac Schultz:

You're a member of the so-called Problem Solvers caucus, which is a bipartisan group of legislators, and it's involved with the organization No Labels. Tell us what No Labels is going for and how the Problem Solvers fits into that group.

Reid Ribble:

Sure, well, the idea behind No Labels is, what they're asking-- No Labels is really a citizens grassroots movement. What they're asking is for members of congress to lay aside party labels, Republican or Democrat, but they're not asking any member of congress to lay aside a principle, a value, an ideology. But they are saying once you lay aside this label of Republican or Democrat and just call yourself an American, we want you to come together and focus on solving problems. And they've been using the phrase, “we want you to fix things and stop fighting.” And I think it's a good idea.

Zac Schultz:

And what appealed to you in that? Were you recruited by one of the members?

Reid Ribble:

No, I wasn't recruited by one of the members. I was recruited by a member of No Labels, not by another member of congress. They stopped by my office one day and asked if they could talk. When I asked them, why did you approach me, what they were looking for is, they were looking for members of congress who were taking a more thoughtful approach, who weren't interested in demonizing people with different ideas. I’ve said for a long time that civil discourse in this country is out of whack. That we have a tendency to restrict the flow of ideas by demonizing the idea, or demonizing the person with the idea. And what I would rather say is I want a free flow of ideas. Let's not demonize individuals. Let's talk about ideas and let's try to find a place where we can find agreement. And that's what No Labels is really trying to do.

Zac Schultz:

The group has introduced a list of 12 changes that they say would help make congress work better. Things that range from the filibuster reform, to more bipartisan meetings, to creating a five-day work week for congress. Do you agree with that entire list or is there anything you're not comfortable with?

Reid Ribble:

No, I don't necessarily agree with the entire list. I think that the list is pretty well put together, but I think some of the list really isn't going to be practical as far as how you get things done in congress. You know, like bipartisan seating at committees or what have you. Those things I think are more cosmetic, but don't necessarily get to a real change. However, I do think that some of the stuff that they're talking about has a lot of merit. No budget, no pay, obviously has some merit. They're calling for a fiscal report to congress being done by an outside source, like the comptroller general of the United States. I think that would be a really great step. If we could get the entire congress to listen to a single fiscal report, finding one identified baseline and using it as a common baseline rather than a Republican baseline, a Democrat baseline, the White House baseline, the CBO baseline. Let's actually use real numbers from real accountants, and let’s get that report so every member of congress has it and has heard it. I think that's a terrific idea, and I think it would help us move forward with a common language.

Zac Schultz:

Do you think you could actually get all the members of congress to agree to one report? We've seen things come out from supposedly non-partisan offices where each side says, well,  I don't agree with that part, their math is incorrect, or I don't agree with that forecast. Is that possible?

Reid Ribble:

But I do think that the one place we could get it from is the general accounting office. That's what these guys do. That's their sole purpose, is to create the financial statement and balance sheet of the US government. And there shouldn't be, and I don't believe that there is, some partisan spin to it. Everything else that you see is going to have some partisan spin to it, but accounting is accounting and numbers are numbers. When you look at the nation's balance sheet based on an accrual method, it's pretty scary. And I think every single member of congress ought to have an opportunity to see it. A lot of them aren't even aware that it's available. And by having a session where the comptroller general comes and presents it, or we could pick some individual person in the accounting world that is immersed themselves in these numbers, present it, we would at least be starting from a common ground. And I think that that would be a significant reform and one that I could support.

Zac Schultz:

Now, some of the gridlock in Washington obviously has to do with the tone and a lot of the proposals here would help change some of that tone, but part of the gridlock is just ideological in nature. Can the Problem Solvers get the parties to agree on immigration reform, or the debt, or taxes?

Reid Ribble:

Well, you know, that's going to be an interesting thing to find out. One of the things we did at our organizational meeting yesterday is we took two Republicans and two Democrats. Peter Welch from Vermont is going to head it up. He’s a pretty Progressive guy, and he’s going to head that up. They're going to begin to identify policy positions that we might be able to work on together. The idea here is to follow what the founders of this country said. And basically what the founders told us is, when you can find agreement, do those things. If you can't find agreement, well, then don't do those things. They're probably not good for the country. And I've discovered in my time in congress that agreement can be found, but it can only be found by those who are actually seeking it, if you’re actually looking for it. That means you have to have conversations with people. You have to build friendships and trust with people so that you can begin to understand their positions, and what you really discover is that agreement can be found on some key issues. We know that immigration reform has to happen. We know tax reform has to happen. We know that the entitlements are in trouble and if we want to protect seniors and protect children, we have to begin to find common ground. And the place to start is by having conversations that are built on trust. If you can create a friendship, you can build some trust in the dialogue, and maybe you can have a better opportunity at finding agreement.

Zac Schultz:

In the past few weeks we've seen the Republican-controlled house of representatives take up three major issues, taxes, Hurricane Sandy relief and the debt ceiling. In each of those cases the Republican majority needed Democrats to pass those bills. Now, is that an example of bipartisanship, or just a reflection of the conflicted nature of the Republican caucus? 

Reid Ribble:

I think you're seeing the conflicted nature of the congress. We have a tendency to think that the Hastert Rule of passing everything with the majority of the majority is the way you should go. I don't know that democracy necessarily prevails in that environment, where one side is driving an agenda and forcing it through. I think that when you can find common ground and you have strong bipartisan support-- listen, this bill we passed yesterday on the debt limit increase until May 18, had strong bipartisan support in the house. If the house of representatives want to get the senate to agree with us, one of the ways to do that is to send stuff over there that has strong bipartisan support. Kind of puts Harry Reid in a box, as it were, because it's hard to turn down his own side. That’s what happened yesterday. And I think it's good for democracy and I think democracy prevails in that environment.

Zac Schultz:

Now, will a group like the Problem Solvers have any real power, enact any real changes without some members of the leadership teams from either party signing up and getting involved?

Reid Ribble:

Well, in this case we didn't have leadership involved. Leadership came to us because there was an idea that had 80% approval with the American people. At the end of the day good policy will result in pretty decent politics. I think the leadership saw that here was a path forward on a difficult and thorny issue, and they took this forward. Lynn Jenkins from Kansas is a Republican member of the leadership who's part of the Problem Solvers bloc, and so they're at the table. And we're looking forward to having a Democrat member from Democrat leadership joining it and seeing what we can advance.

Zac Schultz:

Congressman Ribble, thanks very much for your time.

Reid Ribble:

Zac, it's been good to be with you. Thank you.


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