These days, if your goal is to get people in the two parties talking to one another again, it’s best to start with modest expectations.
And so it is with Jon Huntsman and other leaders of No Labels, an organization of Republicans, Democrats and independents that has set out to get political leaders working together across partisan divides. Mr. Huntsman, the former Utah governor and Republican presidential candidate, is one of No Labels’ two new leaders, along with Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia.
The organization is bringing together a group of members of Congress from both parties along with citizen activists for an event that fits somewhere between a meeting and a rally in New York City on Monday to shift the political system’s focus away from partisan identities to “problem-solving.”
In an interview over the weekend, Mr. Huntsman said his own goal is to make sure the group’s focus is on “things that actually are achievable” in 2013.
Unlike some organizations that try to come up with, for example, policy plans to resolve the deficit, the first No Labels goal is simply to form a group of lawmakers in Congress from both parties that will start talking with each other on a regular basis about solving fiscal problems.
“Let’s just say we can get a problem-solvers group of a couple of dozen now,” Mr. Huntsman says. “If of dozen now, if we can ramp that up to 75 or 80 who are actually meeting regularly,” then the group can change the tenor of the conversation in Washington.
Beyond that, Mr. Huntsman says, No Labels wants to draw in citizens from around the country to put pressure on the political system to expand the bipartisan conversations.
Then, more specifically, No Labels is pushing a “no budget, no pay resolution.” That’s a measure that says members of Congress won’t receive their own pay if they haven’t passed appropriations bills to fund the government on time–something that rarely happens these days.
Second, the group is pushing for a five-day work week for Congress, in hopes that will improve its performance. The idea, Mr. Huntsman says, would be to mandate three five-day work weeks a month and one week in which lawmakers would be free to be back in their home states or districts.
The hope is that that kind of regular schedule would both be an improvement on the current haphazard one in which lawmakers often only work Tuesday through Thursday, and in many cases rarely see members of the other party during that brief work week.
The group is pushing other practical reforms, such as monthly, off-the-record bipartisan meetings that would bring members of both parties together; reforms of filibuster rules that allow a minority to kill legislation in the Senate; and an annual nonpartisan fiscal update to a joint session of Congress.
The goal is to break down the intense partisanship of Washington that Mr. Huntsman says is a much bigger problem than ideological differences. “It isn’t ideology,” he says. “It’s partisanship. It’s the lack of a collaborative spirit that speaks to solutions.”
A footnote: No Labels officials said these political leaders will be at today’s event, in addition to Messrs. Huntsman and Manchin: Democratic Newark, N.J., Mayor Corey Booker, Rep. David Cicilline (D., R.I.), Rep. Charlie Dent (R., Pa.), Former Rep.Mickey Edwards (R., Okla.), Rep. Michael Grimm (R, N.Y.), Rep. Janice Hahn (D., Calif.), Rep. Jim Himes (D., Conn.), Sen. Angus King (I., Maine), Rep. Dan Lipinski(D., Ill.), Rep. Jim Moran (D., Va.), Rep. Reid Ribble (R., Wis.), Rep. Scott Rigell (R, Va.) and Rep. Peter Welch (D., Vt.).