Call for reforms draws 3 senators facing difficult races

WASHINGTON – Three U.S. senators facing tough re-election battles in 2012 are among lawmakers joining the bipartisan group No Labels at an event today to announce proposed reforms for a sharply divided Congress.

The “Make Congress Work” campaign is No Labels' first organized grass-roots campaign since the group launched in December 2010 in hopes of breaking through partisan gridlock. Some of the reforms called for in the campaign include:

  • Stopping pay for congressmen if Congress fails to pass spending bills on time.
  • Toughening filibuster rules to make it harder for senators to block legislation.
  • Five-day workweeks for lawmakers and a three weeks on, one week off schedule.
  • Inviting the president to Capitol Hill on a monthly basis to face questioning by lawmakers.
  • Forbidding members from taking pledges outside their oath of office.

“It's not partisan. It's not ideological. And it's something members of Congress can run on next year to show they are actually for something that will work and they can get it done quickly and get it done together,” said veteran Republican strategist Mark McKinnon, a No Labels co-founder.

The campaign will attempt to mobilize 750,000 voters to sign up on their website, engage at town halls and lobby their lawmakers to support the reforms ahead of the 2012 elections.

The reform proposal comes as congressional approval ratings are at historic lows. A November Gallup Poll found that 13% of Americans said they approved of the job congress members were doing. That is the all-time low recorded by the polling outfit.

The reform package en masse stands little chance of being embraced on Capitol Hill, where the two parties are divided on even how to reform Congress. However, three senators facing competitive re-election campaigns next year are among those aligning themselves with the No Labels campaign, underscoring the need for vulnerable lawmakers to appeal to independent voters, who are playing an ever increasing role in deciding elections.

“I think there are independents in the Democratic Party; I think there are independents in the Republican Party. And then you have the real dedicated, uncommitted independents so when you look at everything, you're looking at the middle being much bigger,” said Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., who is up for re-election next year in a state where President Obama is deeply unpopular.

Manchin will have to appeal to independent and centrist voters to win re-election.

Sens. Dean Heller, R-Nev., and Bill Nelson, D-Fla., are also among the lawmakers aligning themselves with the No Labels campaign at today's event. Nevada and Florida are two battleground states experiencing the rise of independent voters, and both lawmakers will need to secure considerable independent support if they hope to win re-election.

“I'm going to be in a tough race next year and I believe independent voters are going to play a huge part,” Heller said.

A recent report released late last week by the centrist think tank Third Way documented how voters are increasingly opting against affiliating with a political party when they register to vote.

New data on eight swing states found that independent voter registration rose by 4% in Florida since 2008, while Democratic registration dropped by 5% in the same time period. In Nevada, independent voter registration has risen 3.3% while Republican registration has dropped 3.9%.

Third Way predicts 2012 will see the highest rate of turnout among unaffiliated voters since the 1976 elections.

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