Finley: Upton shows the courage to compromise

Nolan Finley
The Detroit News
U.S. Rep. Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph

Digging in is easy. Compromise takes courage. 

You might not know it from his low-key demeanor, but Fred Upton is one of the most courageous politicians in Washington. The Republican congressman from St. Joseph has stepped away from his “Build the Wall”-chanting GOP colleagues and is searching for a consensus that will finally end these embarrassing government shutdown debates.

Don’t misunderstand — he supports the security wall along the nation’s southern border, and notes that most Democrats who are now resisting President Donald Trump’s demand have previously voted for one.

“But when you have a divided government, both sides have to give in a little bit,” says Upton, in his 17th term in Congress. “It’s got to be reciprocal. The president has to do a little more. So do (House Speaker Nancy) Pelosi and the Democrats. We’re not there yet. But it’s coming.”

When, Upton can’t say. But when it does, he expects his Problem Solvers group will have played a major role. The group of roughly 50 House members is divided equally between Republicans and Democrats and is committed to ending gridlock.

They’re a small fraction of the 435-member House, but they’re gaining influence and serve as a counterweight to the chamber’s hard-right and hard-left caucuses. The price of membership is a promise to vote as a bloc if 75 percent of the group agree on a solution.

“Sixty members can swing a vote one way or the other,” Upton says.

The Problem Solvers, which includes Upton’s congressional soulmate, Democratic Rep. Debbie Dingell of Dearborn, were called to the White House last week to offer input on a deal.

Upton was encouraged with Trump’s offer to exchange immigration reforms for wall funding, though he knew it wouldn’t be the final bargain.

“It was an opening, and that’s what we need,” he says. “I’m hoping things are starting to break a little bit.”

Upton was one of only 10 Republicans who voted for a clean bill to restart the government offered by Pelosi. In turn, 10 Democrats broke with their party leaders to support a GOP proposal to restore paychecks to government workers who are on the job during the shutdown. They did so knowing that breaking ranks risks consequences from rabid political bases who keep their representatives in line with threats of primary challenges. 

“I don’t buy that this gets you a primary,” says Upton. “People expect us to work together.”

That’s what Upton and Dingell are doing on a number of bills to provide relief to the unpaid government workers, including one that would end the absurdity that non-essential employees who were sent home can get unemployment benefits, but those still on the job without paychecks can’t. 

Though Trump announced Friday an interim deal to end the shutdown, both sides need to agree on a deal to fund the government long-term. And Upton and the precious few in Congress who have the courage to compromise keep pushing their leaders toward a middle ground.

“We’re having discussions every day, including weekends,” he says. “We’re trying to piece together a fabric that will get things open again.”

Catch “The Nolan Finley Show” weekdays 7-9 a.m. on 910 AM Superstation.