MASSLIVE: Moderate House Democrats open to working with President Donald Trump on transportation, taxes
As originally appearing in MassLive

BY SHIRA SCHOENBERG, The Springfield Republican

BOSTON — A group of moderate House Democrats, including U.S. Rep. Seth Moulton, D-Massachusetts, opened the door to working with Republican President Donald Trump on issues such as tax reform and transportation infrastructure during a panel discussion in Boston on Monday.

“Having a guy in the Oval Office who’s transactional in nature and willing to be ideologically flexible, that opens some doors,” said U.S. Rep. Jim Himes, D-Connecticut, who chairs the New Democrat Coalition.

The New Democrat Coalition describes themselves as moderate Democrats who are pro-economic growth. Moulton, who represents Massachusetts’ 6th District, is hosting several coalition members in Boston on Monday and Tuesday.

The group will focus primarily on business and entrepreneurship. They plan to meet with officials at the service organization City Year, the MIT Media Lab, InnerCity Weightlifting to discuss reducing youth violence, and MassChallenge, which helps startups.

Several members spoke at a breakfast Monday with the New England Council, a business group. They also plan to participate in a roundtable discussion at Harvard Business School on the “future of work.”

Members of Congress participating in the trip include Himes, Terri Sewell of Alabama, Kathleen Rice of New York, Ami Bera of California, Annie Kuster of New Hampshire, Ron Kind of Wisconsin and Stacey Plaskett of the Virgin Islands.

During the New England Council breakfast, all four representatives participating in the panel discussion — Moulton, Sewell, Kind and Himes — said they would be willing to go to the White House and talk to Trump, for example if the president were to call them about an infrastructure bill.

“Absolutely, I would go and talk to him,” Moulton said, citing the importance of infrastructure to Massachusetts.

Himes said if he were to refuse to work with the president on something that could help his district, “You should fire me.”

Sewall, a Democrat elected from a Republican state, said there is a tendency among Democratic leadership and some of the voting base to be “obstructionists.” “But if there’s going to be a conversation in the room to try to work through policy issues, we’d like to be in the room,” Sewell said.

Sewell, who is black and grew up in Selma, did boycott Trump’s inauguration. But she said that was specifically because of Trump’s criticism of civil rights icon and U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Georgia, who was beaten during a civil rights march in Selma.

Although transportation infrastructure is one area where Trump could have an easy time getting Democratic support, the much more complex issue of tax reform also may not be entirely partisan.

Kind, a member of the House Ways and Means Committee, said many Democrats and Republicans agree that there is a need to simplify the tax code, which has not been overhauled since the 1980s.

Kind said he believes there would be some support for efforts to simplify the tax code, make it more competitive and broaden the tax base, while finding a way to pay for changes. He said the most controversial part of the debate right now is over a border adjustment tax, which taxes imports not exports. It is designed to keep companies and their profits in the U.S. and increase the market for U.S. goods, but it would also raise prices on imported goods.

“We’ve got to tee this up and have meetings and hearings, so we can make a reasonably informed decision,” Kind said.

Kind said Congress’ default position is to pass the easiest bill, which is a tax cut that is not paid for. “I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s at the end of the day what we ultimately see in Congress,” Kind said.

Several of the Democrats criticized their own party’s leadership for being too partisan and not being open to Democrats who disagree on some issues. They argued that Democrats should focus on having a broader economic message, without getting as caught up in social issues and litmus tests. Otherwise, they say, it becomes more difficult to win seats in swing districts.

“It has to be OK that as Democrats we allow people to be pro-gun or pro-life. We’re a big tent,” Sewell said. Personally, she said, “I have to have a (National Rifle Association) rating, because guns are really important to my district.”

Moulton argued that there is a need for a “new generation of leadership” in the Democratic Party. “We’re not going to get back into the majority just by opposing Trump or just by trying to go back to whatever scheme happened to work in 2006, which is the view of some leadership,” Moulton said.

“One reason so many Americans voted for Donald Trump was he recognized their economic pain,” Moulton said. “He didn’t present a realistic argument for solving it, but he had some vision. Hillary Clinton’s argument was basically ‘that guy’s nuts.'”

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