It turns out you can have an adult conversation in Washington.
Last week, Erskine Bowles — Co-Chair of President Obama’s bipartisan National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform — addressed more than 20,000 citizen leaders on a national telephone town hall for our organization, No Labels. His message: the need for a bipartisan solution to the fiscal crisis confronting America.
While his words were sobering, we were honored as the Co-Founders of No Labels to host this discussion, which exemplifies the kind of reasonable talk that’s been sorely lacking on Capitol Hill. By encouraging conversations like these, we are putting bipartisanship front and center in a political climate too often dominated by the extremes, name-calling and leadership vacuums.
Our goal is to push hyper-partisanship off to the margins where it belongs so our country can move forward together. With more than 70,000 members and counting, No Labels is the only citizen-led movement dedicated to pressuring our political leaders to put aside their party labels and work together to do what government should do – solve problems. It’s not about ideology; it is about an attitude and a new approach.
And nowhere is this approach more urgently needed than in solving the nation’s fiscal crisis. As Bowles put it: “The fiscal path we’re on in the country today is not sustainable. The problem is real. The solutions are all painful. There is no easy way out. And if we do nothing, we are going to face the most predictable economic crisis in history.”
If America is going to put its fiscal house back in order, we must find an approach to these difficult negotiations that builds trust and confidence on all sides. There should be no preconditions to these talks. Everyone must be at the table; everything must be on the table.
Fortunately, there are signs that our message is beginning to get through.
Quietly, a small group of Senators known as the “Gang of Six,” led by Senators Mark Warner (D-Va.) and Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), have been working together to produce a bipartisan plan to curb the national deficit. To support their efforts, No Labels has sponsored a petition, which has garnered thousands of signatures from Americans concerned about the future of our country’s finances. As Bowles said, “The ‘Gang of Six’ is our best hope…These six senators — Republicans and Democrats — they’re taking some really courageous steps here. This isn’t easy. The solutions aren’t politically popular.”
Last week, the Gang of Six got some necessary reinforcements.
Sixty-four Senators – evenly divided along the political spectrum – sent a letter to President Obama urging him to support a broader discussion on the budget deficit. That’s the type of bipartisan consensus in Washington normally reserved for commemorative postage stamps. Senators Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) and Mike Johanns (R-Neb.) deserve plenty of credit for leading the charge in support of the Gang of Six negotiations. However, the clock is ticking. It’ll be another wasted opportunity unless the President and Congress act on their efforts — and soon.
Come this Friday, the President and members of Congress have two weeks to work together to avert a government shutdown or avoid another in a line of Continuing Resolutions that just chip away at the problem. Let’s get everyone at the table with everything on the table. If there was ever a reason to adopt this new approach in Washington, the time is now.
Nancy Jacobson and Mark McKinnon are the Co-Founders of No Labels. To sign the No Labels’ petition in support of the “Gang of Six,” visit www.nolabels.org.
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