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Hickenlooper praises bipartisan caucus, skeptics remain wary

September 8, 2017 Updated: September 8, 2017 at 4:04 pm
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FILE - In this Jan. 12, 2017, file photo, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper applauds members of the audience as he delivers his annual State of the State address inside the state legislature, in Denver. Dissatisfied with Democratic fortunes in the era of President Donald Trump, a group of prominent Democrats is forming an organization outside the formal party structure with the goal of winning again in Republican-dominated middle America. Calling itself “New Democracy,” the group includes sitting and former governors, former Cabinet members, mayors and lawmakers from Congress to statehouses. Among the affiliated politicians: Hickenlooper, considered a possible future presidential candidate; former Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, also a former Iowa governor; and Mayor Mitch Landrieu of New Orleans, current head of the nonpartisan U.S. Conference of Mayors. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley, File)

Washington - Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper on Friday heralded the greatest achievement yet of a new political group trying to break the gridlock between Republicans and Democrats in Congress.

The group, called the Problem Solvers Caucus, introduced compromise legislation to resolve the nation's health insurance crisis.

"You guys make the laws," Hickenlooper told congressmen standing nearby, as he spoke behind the U.S. Capitol building. "Governors implement them. If we work together ahead of time, I think we can solve a lot of problems."

But even as he praised the efforts of the Problem Solvers, skeptics wondered whether Hickenlooper's optimism about finally breaking through divisions in Congress was premature.

In addition to health care, sharp differences that have deadlocked Congress this year include tax reform, immigration and infrastructure spending.

The health care plan Hickenlooper, a Democrat, hammered out with Ohio Gov. John Kasich, a Republican, keeps key parts of the Obama administration's Affordable Care Act but adds efficiency measures. They include reinsurance for the costliest medical treatments and flexibility for states to work out their own solutions.

But among political leaders cautioning against too much enthusiasm for the legislation's chances of winning approval in Congress was Colorado Rep. Jared Polis, D-Boulder.

"It's far from a done deal," he said.

Already some Republicans are making efforts to scuttle the health care proposal.

Polis counts himself as one of the more than 40 elected political officials who joined the Problem Solvers Caucus since it was organized in January of this year. The exclusive club strikes a political balance by making certain its membership is evenly split among Democrats and Republicans. In other words, one Democrat for each one Republican.

Their legislation is supposed to succeed where the proposals of each party working separately have failed.

Part of their motivation was drawn from public outrage about a Congress that debates many proposals but accomplishes few of them.

"I think people have just had it with partisan politics," Polis said.

Organizers of the Problem Solvers Caucus wrote a editorial column in The New York Times to explain their goals.

"We all knew the partisanship in Washington had gotten out of control and felt the need to create a bipartisan group committed to getting to 'yes' on important issues," the caucus said. "We have agreed to vote together for any policy proposal that garners the support of 75 percent of the entire Problem Solvers Caucus, as well as 51 percent of both the Democrats and Republicans in the caucus."

About the same time the Problem Solvers Caucus held a press conference Friday, President Donald Trump was renewing his harsh comments against members of Congress.

The president attacked fellow Republicans in a tweet for failing to replace the Affordable Care Act.

"Republicans, sorry, but I've been hearing about Repeal & Replace for 7 years, didn't happen!" Trump tweeted.

After the press conference, Hickenlooper was a panelist for a discussion on health care reform at the American Enterprise Institute, a public policy foundation in downtown Washington.

He again praised the bipartisan effort of the caucus, saying it created a path to accomplishment that has eluded Congress previously.

"There's a list of stuff that is long overdue," Hickenlooper said.

The moderator for the panel discussion was Sarah Kliff, an editor for the news and opinion website Vox.com, who covers healthcare.

She told Colorado Politics the only issue easing the political gridlock in Congress over health insurance is the failure of purely partisan politics.

The Republicans tried to replace the Affordable Care Act with their own plan but "that solution didn't work," she said.

Joe Antos, a health policy expert at the American Enterprise Institute, was more doubtful about new joint solutions of Democrats and Republicans to solve social problems.

"The idea that there's a bipartisan spirit sweeping through Congress is completely wrong," he said. "It's been like this for decades."

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