I’ve recently discovered a group called No Labels that I think very highly of. They are made up of members of both parties and their primary purpose is to end the hyper-partisanship taking place in Washington and fix the problems with our highly disfunctional Legistlative branch of government. Here’s the plan, and it’s a damn good one:
Make Congress Work is No Labels’ first grassroots campaign to effect real change in our government.
At a time when our nation faces immense challenges, the American people have never had less faith in the ability of Congress to do anything about them.
This problem couldn’t be more serious – because if Congress is broken, so is the United States of America.
Every law addressing any substantial issue has to go through Congress first. That means if we want a better tax code, a balanced budget, a better immigration system or more effective educational and energy policies, we first need to fix our broken Congress.
No Labels believes the biggest problem with Congress is not necessarily the people in it. It’s the outdated rules, procedures and traditions that govern the institution and make it impossible for anything to get done. Congress has become a place where even good, talented people get dragged down by a broken system. But if the rules of Congress change, we can make our government work again.
Our dozen proposals to Make Congress Work mostly don’t require new laws or any new spending, and they don’t favor any party or particular cause. These are simple, straightforward proposals to break gridlock, promote constructive discussion and reduce polarization in Congress. They can be adopted, almost all at once, when the next Congress convenes in January 2013.
Throughout 2012, No Labels will conduct an intensive grassroots campaign to mobilize 1 million people behind our action plan to Make Congress Work again.
- No Budget, No Pay: Congress rarely passes spending bills on time, which makes it virtually impossible for members to intelligently consider why they are spending taxpayer dollars in the first place. No Labels Solution: If Congress can’t make spending and budget decisions on time, they shouldn’t get paid on time either.
- Up or Down Vote on Presidential Appointments: The Senate now routinely holds up critical presidential appointments to the Cabinet and the courts for purely political reasons. No Labels Solution: All appointees should receive an up or down vote within 90 days of their name being sent to the Senate. If deadline is not met, the nominee would be confirmed by default.
- Filibuster Reform: Constant use of the filibuster has ground the Senate to a halt. One reason the filibuster is used so often is that senators don’t even have to show up on the floor to explain themselves anymore. No Labels Solution: Our filibuster fix is based on a simple idea: If senators want to filibuster legislation, they should actually have to publicly explain why. Also, filibusters can be used to prevent a bill from reaching the floor for debate (motions to proceed). Eliminating the filibuster for motions to proceed would allow more issues to be debated and voted on by the whole Senate.
- Empower the Sensible Majority: Good legislation that is supported by a sensible bipartisan majority often isn’t even debated because congressional leaders or committee chairs see political benefit in keeping Democrats and Republicans at one another’s throats. No Labels Solution: House and Senate rules should be reformed to make it easier for a bipartisan majority to bring legislation to the House or Senate floor over the objection of party leaders.
- Make Members Come to Work: Part of the reason why Congress can’t get much done is that they’re not showing up in the halls of the Senate or House more than a few days a week due to constant fundraising and trips home. No Labels Solution: Congress could get more done if they actually came to their offices in the capital. The House and Senate should be in Washington, DC for three weeks in any given month. The House and Senate should also have five-day work weeks and they should be in session at the same time.
Promoting Constructive Discussion
- Question Time for the President: Leaders in Washington rarely debate one another anymore, choosing instead to just talk past one another through the media. No Labels Solution: America should take a cue from the British Parliament’s regular questioning of the prime minister to create question time for the president and Congress.
- Fiscal Report to Congress: Hear it. Read it. Sign it: Perhaps the chief obstacle to fixing America’s finances is that no one agrees what’s really on our balance sheet. When leaders in Washington debate our budget, they routinely use different baselines, projections and assumptions, which tend to conveniently support whatever policy they are pushing at the moment. The No Labels Solution: Every year, a nonpartisan leader, such as the comptroller general, should deliver a fiscal update that must be signed off on by our senior political leaders, just as CEOs are required to affirm the accuracy of their company’s financial reporting.
- No Pledge but the Oath of Office: One of the biggest barriers to solving problems in Congress is that many members literally sign away their ability to legislate with repeated pledges to narrow interest groups. The No Labels Solution: It’s time to cut the puppet strings that allow narrow interest groups to control members of Congress. Members should make no pledge but the pledge of allegiance and their formal oath of office.
- Monthly Bipartisan Gatherings: Democrats and Republicans in Congress rarely socialize or even meet with members of the other party anymore. Like any workplace, Congress depends on good human relationships to function. When there are no relationships, there is dysfunction. The No Labels Solution: To get members talking to one another, both the House and Senate should institute monthly bipartisan gatherings.
- Bipartisan Seating: More often than not, seating in Congress resembles boys and girls at a middle school dance, with each side keeping an (un)comfortable distance from one another. The No Labels Solution: It’s time to curb the cliques in Congress. At all joint meetings or sessions of Congress, each member should be seated next to at least one member of the other party.
- Bipartisan Leadership Committee: In today’s Congress, almost every meeting or get-together is partisan, with legislative problem-solving taking a back seat to discussion of how to stick it to the other side. The No Labels Solution: Congressional party leaders should form a bipartisan congressional leadership committee as a forum for discussing both legislative agendas and substantive solutions.
- No Negative Campaigns Against Incumbents: When incumbent members of Congress from one party negatively campaign against the incumbents from the other party, it destroys the trust necessary to work together. The No Labels Solution: Incumbents from one party should not conduct negative campaigns against incumbents from the opposing party. That means no appearing in negative ads, no signing nasty direct mail letters and no traveling to an incumbent’s district or state to play attack dog. Members would, of course, be free to campaign or fundraise in support of candidates from their party.