An organization called No Labels, first established in 2010, has managed a political miracle: getting committed liberals and conservatives to come together to find common ground while maintaining their principles.
One idea advanced by the group passed both houses of Congress and was signed into law by President Obama in February 2013. It was called the No Budget, No Pay Act, based on a simple principle that research showed was supported by 90 percent of the American people: If Congress didn’t pass a timely budget resolution in 2013, members’ pay would halt and would not resume until it did. Congress did pass a budget resolution in March 2013, so lawmakers were able to continue being paid.
This was a one-time law that was not renewed for 2014 or thereafter. But for a new organization committed to bipartisan actions by Congress, it was at least a start, perhaps to be replicated in 2015.
No Labels’ approach undoubtedly has broad public support. A March 2014 poll conducted by another admirable organization committed to bipartisan solutions, the Bipartisan Policy Center, found that two out of three Americans had positive impressions about “getting results” and “solving problems.”
In 2014, after broad consultation from the grassroots to the think tanks, No Labels called for a process establishing a National Strategic Agenda based on four goals:
- creating 25 million jobs over the next decade;
- stabilizing Social Security and Medicare for the next 75 years;
- achieving U.S. energy security by 2024; and
- balancing the federal budget by 2030.
Nearly 90 members of Congress agreed to participate in the process regarding working on these four goals — about half Republican and half Democratic.
Any candidate in this year’s midterm races could receive the No Labels Problem Solver Seal of Approval and use it in his or her campaign ads and brochures. All they had to do was to endorse the four goals and promise to work for at least one of them.
The result: In the 2014 congressional elections, 33 Democrats and 34 Republicans received the No Labels Problem Solver seal during their campaigns. These included one now-senator-elect, Republican Cory Gardner of Colorado, and one reelected Democratic senator, Mark Warner of Virginia.
I talked recently to former Republican Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, who co-chairs No Labels with former independent Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut. I asked him to summarize the core goal of No Labels. Here is what he said: “All we want to do is ask committed liberals and committed conservatives to talk — not to give up their principles, but to reach out and find common ground to try to solve problems.”
That seems pretty simple and not too much to ask.
So I ask: Is it too idealistic? Can it work to solve one of America’s most divisive and apparently intractable problems, comprehensive immigration reform?
It may surprise you but the answer is not only yes, it’s already been done, in the U.S. Senate.
Republican senators wanted to secure our borders. Many Democrats agreed. Democrats wanted to grant legal resident status to undocumented workers who have been here for years, raised families and been good citizens, and to have a pathway to citizenship for these people some day after paying fines and working years to earn the privilege.
Many Republicans agreed.
Voila — this is essentially the Senate bill that was passed on a bipartisan vote.
So why can’t at least some House Republicans join with at least some House Democrats to make a majority and enact the Senate bill?
If they were to do this, we could avoid Obama keeping his pledge to use his executive authority to implement at least some of these reforms — a use of executive power that, by the way, has ample historical precedent by presidents in both parties, back to George Washington.
To Speaker John Boehner: Why not make this a turning point and prove that Republicans can join with Democrats and pass the Senate bill during the lame-duck session this December? Come on, House Republicans, support your colleagues in the Senate. Work together! Follow the No Labels problem-solver approach!
If you do, this last action of the 113th Congress will be a historical pivot from dysfunction and gridlock to a Congress that America can believe in again, and show our ability as a democracy to solve problems.
We need this — now, more than ever.