This week began with Flag Day, a day that is supposed to commemorate our national unity and strength.
If only that symbolism matched the reality in Washington, where Congress remains deeply divided by reckless partisan politics.
But this can change, and sooner than you may think.
No Labels, a mostly volunteer organization of Republicans, Democrats and independents, has a plan, and it doesn’t mess around. Through a grass-roots effort, this group has created a Congressional Problem Solvers Caucus to include dozens of members of Congress, fostering collaboration and teamwork across party lines. These members of Congress have listened to the message, liked what they heard and are committed to an elevated level of cross-party cooperation. Perhaps you haven’t seen the progress yet. But soon, you will.
The plan is called the National Strategic Agenda, and we believe it has real potential to help unite the country, shape the 2016 electoral debate and provide a proven framework for problem solving in the first 100 days of the next administration. For too long, political leaders have told us they want to unite the country without telling us how. The National Strategic Agenda is the how.
To solve a problem — any problem — you need to set goals, get people to buy into those goals and put a process or plan in place to achieve them.
Last year, No Labels partnered with PSB Research to conduct a series of national polls to identify the top policy issues that concerned the American people. Based on this feedback, No Labels developed the four goals of the National Strategic Agenda:
• Create 25 million new jobs over the next 10 years.
• Secure Social Security and Medicare for another 75 years.
• Balance the federal budget by 2030.
• Make America energy secure by 2024.
Ever since, No Labels has been working to mobilize members of Congress and citizens across the country around the agenda, and the response has been astounding.
As of today, more than 50 members of the House have supported a resolution calling for the creation of a National Strategic Agenda. Just last week, Sens. Bill Nelson, D-Florida, and John Thune, R-South Dakota, introduced a similar resolution here in the Senate. And Wednesday morning, the two of us are testifying in front of the Senate Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs Committee to talk about how the National Strategic Agenda can usher in a new era of goal-focused governance in Washington.
Meanwhile, No Labels is organizing a grass-roots army of citizens in New Hampshire, Iowa and elsewhere to make the National Strategic Agenda a priority issue in the 2016 elections. In New Hampshire, No Labels is essentially running a “presidential campaign without a candidate,” with hundreds of volunteers and activists on the ground generating excitement about this idea. And in October, No Labels will hold a rally in Manchester focused on the National Strategic Agenda, with 1,000 independent voters and a number of presidential candidates in attendance.
Ultimately, the goal is to shape not only the 2016 debate but also the focus of the next president’s first 100 days. Here’s what the endgame could look like. A new president comes into office, having called in the campaign for the creation of a new National Strategic Agenda for the country. In the inaugural address, this new president promises to fly the congressional leaders from both parties down to Camp David, Maryland, within the first 100 days to start work on the agenda.
At Camp David, the president and the congressional leaders pick one of the goals to focus on, and they commit to a process. They assign working groups or congressional committees to study the issues and suggest solutions. They agree to timelines and metrics for success. They agree to be accountable to one another, and above all, to the country. And they get to work.
Is this idea ambitious? Yes.
Is it a total departure from how Washington has worked for well over a decade? You bet.
Is it impossible? Absolutely not.
The National Strategic Agenda embraces a process that has been instrumental to achieving big goals throughout our history. President Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neill brought their parties together to fix the tax code and shore up Social Security in the 1980s. And President Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich did something similar when they balanced the budget in the 1990s.
Make no mistake. These bipartisan efforts were often contentious and controversial. There was no hiatus from partisanship and politicking. But these leaders hung in there — even when there were ample reasons not to — because they were invested in a big goal and committed to a process to achieve it.
We believe the National Strategic Agenda can revive that bipartisan spirit. It can put into action those symbolic national values we remember on Flag Day, where we celebrate our unity, our strength and above all our common heritage as Americans.