Call them the Republican Sanity Caucus.

When a group of 10 Republican senators, led by Maine’s own Susan Collins, countered Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus proposal with their own, $618 billion plan, many Democrats dismissed it out of hand as paltry.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer pressed ahead with plans to pass Biden’s proposal as-is through the budget reconciliation process, allowing them to pass it along party lines. That approach might be understandable, given that Democrats have the majority and there was such a wide gap between the two sums, but it’s not advisable. Ramming such a large spending bill through on a party-line basis might poison the well for future bipartisan accomplishments, and Joe Biden seems to understand that, as he scheduled a meeting with the Republican senators in the Oval Office.

While the differences between the two packages might seem insurmountable, it’s likely that in both cases it’s just an opening position. Biden probably knew that he was never going to get the full $1.9 trillion – even if he relied solely on Democratic votes for passage. Republicans similarly understood that they were never going to whittle Biden’s proposal down by more than half: instead, their proposal is a way to show the Administration what their most pressing concerns are.

It’s good, though, that enough Republican senators were willing to sign on to a plan to get to the 60-vote threshold (if they were joined by all 50 members of the Democratic caucus). That’s significant, as it shows there’s a path forward for the Biden administration to actually govern. Even if the Republican proposal doesn’t end up having much impact on the COVID relief proposal, it was notable that Biden was willing to meet with them. While he may be able to get a version of his plan passed through the budget reconciliation process, it probably won’t end up including everything he wants, and that procedure can’t be used for every single piece of legislation.

There seems to be genuine interest on the part of both the Biden administration and some Republicans in working together to get things done. After the events of the past few weeks, with political extremists inside and outside Congress dominating the news cycle, that’s heartening to see. This coalition of reasonable Republicans, who actually recognize that Joe Biden is the president and that they don’t disagree on everything, is going to fluctuate in size and membership based the issue. But it’s heartening to see that it exists at all. It might not be much, but it’s certainly a starting point that can lead to productive results.

Even though he wasn’t at the meeting himself, it was also good to see that Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell didn’t do anything to actively undermine the effort. Just as Biden is open to negotiating with the group, clearly McConnell doesn’t stridently oppose their efforts, or he’d have made that clear last week. He knows that these kinds of coalitions are likely to come along during this Congress, and he’s better off leaving them alone to see what happens rather than wholeheartedly supporting or opposing them. If he opposes every possible deal, he only confirms liberals’ caricature of him; if he supports a potential deal, he risks blowback from the strident conservatives in the caucus. For now, it makes perfect sense for him to take a hands-off approach to the negotiations. If this strategy pays dividends, we may see McConnell employ it in the future on other issues as well.

That’s a wise approach, far better than leadership negotiating on their own with the White House behind closed doors. We saw that almost fail dramatically during the last administration, when Trump nearly derailed the deal his own team had negotiated at the last possible moment. That strategy leads to last-minute deals that lawmakers feel enormous pressure to approve before they have a chance to read the legislation, and that’s no way to govern.

Republican senators also made it clear that they were the adults in D.C., especially when compared with the House Republican caucus, which has begun to resemble a circular firing squad. There may not be much hope for bipartisanship in the House, but there appears to be some in the Senate – and it’s largely thanks to Sen. Collins and the fellow members of her Sanity Caucus. Hopefully, they can form the basis for not just a return of bipartisanship, but of a saner Republican Party.

Jim Fossel, a conservative activist from Gardiner, worked for Sen. Susan Collins. He can be contacted at:
[email protected]
Twitter: @jimfossel

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