Whether it’s sequestration, the budget crisis or the debt ceiling debate, America continues to kick the can down the road on problems large and small. Most Americans have reached the point where they just roll their eyes when they hear about the latest dysfunction out of Washington.
But it’s time to pay attention because Washington’s dysfunction is making America dysfunctional.
Economists such as Stanford’s Nicholas Bloom have recently traced the link between policy uncertainty and the reluctance of businesses to make long-term commitments. This means that people aren’t hiring and workers aren’t working as a direct consequence of our elected leaders’ inability to work together.
Fortunately, this reality is starting to generate a sense of urgency on Capitol Hill. The evidence: the growth of No Labels’ Problem Solvers — a group of 63 members of Congress who are meeting regularly to build trust across the aisle.
This is not just some meeting of mushy moderates or people pushing bipartisanship for its own sake. No Labels’ Problem Solvers includes proud liberals, proud conservatives, and everything in between. They are united by their belief that people with different ideas really can work together. A representative member is Colorado’s Mike Coffman, a self-identified conservative who nonetheless finds plenty of value in building relationships beyond his party’s caucus.
“The people of Colorado sent me here to find solutions to the problems our country is facing. We won’t be able to improve the economy, solve our nation’s debt crisis, or enact the reforms we need, unless we work together across the aisle,” Coffman said when he joined No Labels.
No one expects Rep. Coffman or anyone else to check political principles at the door when they come to a Problem Solvers meeting — or any No Labels event.
I’m a proud Democrat who served as a senior adviser to President Bill Clinton. Rep. Coffman is a proud Republican, and yet we are working together through the same organization – No Labels – because we respect what people on the other side of the aisle have to say. Rep. Coffman and the other Problem Solvers are showing an attitude rarely seen in Washington these days – a willingness to find common ground and an understanding that working with people from the other party isn’t treasonous. It is in fact the only way forward in an era of divided government.
The Problem Solvers include 33 Democrats, 29 Republicans and an independent who meet privately at least once a month. They are building relationships, building trust and have begun work on common sense policy proposals that you will likely be hearing more about over the summer.
This is a big deal, when you consider that similar across the aisle gatherings are almost totally unheard of in Washington. In choosing a new way forward, the Problem Solvers are choosing a deeply pragmatic solution to deal with dysfunction in our government. They also have a strong wind of public opinion at their back.
Many recent surveys show a majority of Americans – Democrats, Republicans and independents – supporting collaboration rather than confrontation. Meanwhile, the Pew Research Center reported that approval of the federal government has fallen to a record low. The warning light is flashing, and we should not ignore it. Members of Congress such as Rep. Coffman are answering the call.
With Democrats controlling the Senate and Republicans controlling the House, the Problem Solvers are our only hope of ending gridlock in our government and of finding solutions on so many issues.
Rep. Coffman and 62 of his colleagues have gotten the message. The rest of Capitol Hill should be paying attention.
Galston is Ezra Zilkha Chair and senior fellow in Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution. From 1993 through 1995, he served as deputy assistant to President Clinton for Domestic Policy. He is a No Labels co-founder.