The 20% Solution

A Republican is trying to inject some budget sanity into Congress. Will it take?

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Alex Wong / Getty Images

U.S. Rep. Scott Rigell (R-VA) (C) speaks as Rep. Joe Walsh (R-IL) (L) and Rep. Jim Cooper (D-TN) (R) look on during a news conference to announce the formation of the 'Fix Congress Now Caucus' May 16, 2012 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC

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Rigel has launched his own sanity effort—the Fix Congress Now Caucus—which Representative Jim Cooper of Tennessee, a famously moderate Democrat, has joined. The first item on the agenda is a bill to stop paying members until they actually pass a budget. Cooper would like that budget to resemble the report issued by the Simpson-Bowles deficit commission (which favored a 21% revenue solution). "So far we've had a press conference," Cooper told me with disgust. "It's easy to hold a press conference but hard to vote right. I've been very impressed with the willingness of Republicans like Rigell and Reid Ribble of Wisconsin to say the right things. The question is, Will they be willing to vote against their party's leadership when it counts or are they just trying to look moderate in their districts in an election year?"

For Cooper, the bright-line test was the up-or-down vote the House took on Simpson-Bowles a few months ago: only 38 members, a mix of Democrats and Republicans, voted for the measure. Rigell and Ribble voted against. "I didn't think that proposal addressed health-care inflation," Rigell told me. "I'm taking this one step at a time. My Republican colleagues say, Let's do the cuts first. The Democrats say, Let's do spending first. I'd like to do both simultaneously." Actually, that's not quite accurate: Republicans have opposed any revenue increases; Democrats have proposed some cuts, but not in the crucial entitlement areas. Still, Rigell's courage should be applauded: 20/20 foresight is a rare commodity in our disgracefully contentious politics these days.

The original version of this story indicated that Rep. Jim Cooper launched Fix Congress Now. The caucus was created by Rep. Scott Rigell.

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