Make Congress Work

The No Labels Action Plan to Change the Rules and Fix What’s Broken


4 Empower the Sensible Majority

The Problem

A not-so-hidden secret about Congress is that much of the legislation it considers is designed to embarrass the other party or score political points. Legislation can be considered by the full House or Senate only if it's first sent there by leadership or committee chairs, who often see political benefit in keeping Democrats and Republicans at one another's throats. One member says flatly, "The leaders [of Congress] often don't want us to work together."

Meanwhile, legislation that is supported by a sensible bipartisan majority often dies in a leader's office or in committee.

The No Labels Solution

We need to democratize decision-making in Congress to break the gridlock. If a bipartisan majority wants to get something done, they shouldn't be held back by party leaders who prefer to organize Congress into warring clans. That's why the House should allow members to anonymously sign discharge petitions, which allow a majority of members to override a leader or committee chair's refusal to bring a bill to the floor. Once a majority of members have signed, the names of the signers would be made public. Under current rules, discharge petitions are allowed, but signers are made public from the start. Members are reluctant to buck party leaders who may retaliate by pulling members off of important committees, bottling up legislation they support or withholding critical campaign help. Our reform would allow members to sign a discharge petition knowing at least half their colleagues are in the same boat with them. A similar reform could be undertaken in the Senate.

This proposal require a change of House and Senate rules, which can be made effective when the new Congress is seated in 2013.


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