Congress Needs Private Bipartisan Meetings
by Mark McKinnon
On September 17, 1978, Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Egyptian President Anwar el-Sadat emerged from Camp David after 17 days of secret negotiations, away from the spotlight. They walked out with an agreement that would lead to a peace treaty between Israel and Egypt — a seeming impossibility mere weeks before.
In Congress, our elected officials have no such opportunity to even sit down and discuss issues in private. In fact, they rarely, if ever, talk to members of the opposing party.
When it comes down to it, members from different parties can’t find common ground and common solutions in part because the only times they ever come together are under the bright lights of TV cameras. With the cameras rolling they are forced to play a part and often get boxed into performing hyper-partisan grandstanding to curry favor with the political extremes. Transparency in politics is a great thing, but if the only conversations that ever take place are in public, there is no room for the difficult, honest conversations that often need to take place in private.
To fix this problem, No Labels is proposing a mandatory monthly bipartisan gathering of each chamber of Congress. Unlike Congress’ usual meetings, these gatherings will have no media, no interest groups and no visitors.
In private meetings, leaders will have the opportunity to be more up front with one another and actually work together toward compromise.
This is not just a feel-good, symbolic reform. Putting opponents in a room to hash out their differences actually works. It’s used in business, diplomacy and conflict-mediation. In fact, it’s one of the few strategies that is proven to make our leaders compromise. In addition to the Camp David Accords, President Reagan’s commission on Social Security and the 9/11 Commission all achieved consensus after private meetings, away from the bright lights.
But these meetings are too few and far between. These private, bipartisan meetings are only held for party leaders and specific committees — and only in worst-case situations when Congress has been unable to come to consensus.
We’re living in that worst-case situation every day in Washington. We’re sick and tired of deadlines, countdowns and gridlock. So let’s stop waiting to use a proven tool until it’s nearly too late. It’s time for our elected officials to actually meet and solve problems again.
What do you think? Please leave a comment below and join the conversation about No Labels’ proposed congressional rules reforms. Read a recap of last week's reform ideas here.
For two decades Mark McKinnon has been helping solve complex strategic challenges for causes, companies and candidates, including President George W. Bush, Senator John McCain, Governor Ann Richards, Congressman “Good Time” Charlie Wilson, Lance Armstrong and Bono.