In 1988, the voters in my home state of Colorado became increasingly dissatisfied with the hyper-partisan culture of the Colorado General Assembly. For example, in the State House of Representatives, bills would be introduced, assigned to the respective committee of jurisdiction, and then the committee chairman/chairwoman, from the majority party, would decide when and if the bill would be scheduled for a vote. If the Chair didn’t like a bill, it was simple, it was never put on the calendar for a vote and it automatically died at the end of the legislative session.
In 1988, all that changed due to the passage of a constitutional amendment, placed on the ballot as an initiative, called ‘Give A Vote to Every Legislator’ (GAVEL). What GAVEL said was that the General Assembly could uniformly limit the number of bills that each legislator could introduce but once a bill was introduced; it had to be given a hearing and a vote.
Fast forward to today, in the U.S. House of Representatives, there simply is too much power, in too few hands, with too little getting done for the American people. Like the Colorado General Assembly prior to 1988, bills are introduced, assigned to their respective committees of reference, and then the committee Chair decides which bills are scheduled to come to a vote and which ones will not.
In Congress, I am a member of a bipartisan caucus called “Problem Solvers” – a group that has 24 Republicans and 24 Democrats. We have come together to try to bridge the partisan divide in Washington, D.C. Our goal is to reform the rules of the U.S. House of Representatives. Under our “Break the Gridlock” agenda, we believe we can advance bipartisan solutions. There are many problems our country faces where effective legislative solutions have strong bipartisan support. Because of partisan leadership on both sides of the aisle, however, these issues are too often thought of in terms of how they can be used to gain political advantage rather than coming to a compromise that will be in the best interest of the American people.
Our strategy to implement our “Break the Gridlock” reforms is to procedurally block the election of Speaker of the House nominee, from whichever party has the majority, from becoming the Speaker until there is an agreement to adopt our agenda. We believe that whichever party has the majority will have it by a very narrow margin. In other words, this will give the power to a small group of our members, from both sides of the aisle. Our Problem Solvers will have the ability to stop a nominee for Speaker from getting the necessary 218 votes to take the gavel, until he or she agrees to adopt our reforms.
There are three major reforms associated with our “Break the Gridlock”:
The first reform is similar to Colorado’s GAVEL amendment. It gives every member of Congress the opportunity to introduce one bill that will be voted in committee.
Our second major reform is to require that when a bill reaches 290 cosponsors that it automatically will come to the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives for a vote.
Our third major reform is to open the amendment process by requiring a 3/5th vote before a bill can come to the floor under a “Closed Rule,” meaning that no amendments are allowed.
Here is an example of the problem we currently face: Last year, a bill was introduced to remove the discriminatory country caps for the H1B high-skilled worker visa program. These country caps make it very difficult for high skilled immigrants from India to receive green cards even after having legally worked in the United States for more than a decade. The bill, H.R. 392, ‘Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act of 2017’, today has a total of 329 cosponsors while it only takes 218 votes to pass a bill. The bill has not come to a vote because it is opposed by one individual, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee where immigration-related bills are assigned. Under the “Break the Gridlock” Problem Solver reform, the bill would automatically have come to the floor for a vote when it reached 290 cosponsors.
A bipartisan group of Members of Congress, Republicans and Democrats, have come together to make a difference and I’m proud to be a part of that effort.
Rep. Coffman represents the 6th Congressional District of Colorado in the U.S. House of Representatives. As a marine combat veteran, he is the only Member of Congress to have served in both Iraq wars. He currently serves on the House Veterans Affairs Committee as well as the House Armed Services Committee where he is the chairman of the military personnel subcommittee.