Amid one of the most heated, polarized election cycles in modern U.S. history — itself set against a Congress and White House paralyzed by left-right gridlock — a group dedicated to uniting liberals and conservatives in Washington wants the next president to give bipartisanship a chance.
The group No Labels and its co-chairs, former Utah Republican Gov. Jon Huntsman and former Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, on Thursday unveiled a 190-page guide to tackling some of the nation’s seemingly-intractable problems, including spiraling federal debt and the ong-term fiscal health of Social Security.
But the “No Labels Policy Playbook,” is also a road map back to Capitol Hill bipartisanship, according to Huntsman and Lieberman: All the solutions outlined in the book include elements that appeal to both the left and the right, and are poll-approved for additional political cover.
“The aim is to disrupt the dysfunction” in the current political climate, said Lieberman, speaking to reporters and politicians, including several sitting congress members, gathered at a luncheon to unveil the project.
The anti-establishment anger unleashed on both sides during the ongoing presidential primary — epitomized by Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders’ insurgent campaigns — shows people want “our elected leaders to get together to find common ground.”
To bolster the message, No Labels will hold a post-election session in December with Republican and Democratic lawmakers to try and put the recommended solutions into play before the new president.settles into the White House.
Titled “1787” after the historic governing session convened after the Revolutionary War in Philadelphia, the gathering is intended to “create some peace around shared policy goals” following what’s likely to be an intense presidential election, Huntsman said. That year, he said, the Founding Fathers “came to Philadelphia with enormous disagreements” but ironed them out “because they put the national interest first.”
The book and the bipartisan summit are the highest-profile, most substantive moves yet by No Labels, a six-year-old organization whose goal is to end the current era of hyper-partisanship in the federal government.
Launched with roughly 1,000 members, its leaders say membership has exploded to more than one million, and they say as many as 60 members of the 535-member Congress regularly participate in its meetings and seminars.
At Thursday’s event, Huntsman, Lieberman, William Galston of the Brookings Institute and Alan Murray of Fortune magazine walked the audience through the 60 proposals in the Policy Playbook, including plans for job creation, shoring up Social Security and Medicaid, overhauling federal regulations, goals for a balanced budget and energy security.
Although the group insists the public is hungering for Democrats and Republicans to set aside their differences and work together for the good of the nation — and polls show Americans want elected officials to compromise — No Labels has until now struggled to gain traction on Capitol Hill.
It lists just two legislative accomplishments on its web page, hasn’t had much of an impact on Congressional gridlock and isn’t playing much of a role in the race for the Democratic and Republican presidential nominations. When pressed on No Labels’ fight to break through a calcified left-right political system, both Huntsman and Lieberman were pragmatic.
“We’ve embarked on something that’s akin to a clinical trial here. It’s never been done before,” sai Huntsman, who was President Barack Obama’s ambassador to China before launching an unsuccessful bid for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012. The ideas in the report, he added, are “good politics and good policy” and have the backing of the public as well as several members of Congress.
“For the first time, we’re in a position to say to that president, Republican or Democrat, ‘We’re willing to work with you on these issues,'” “That would de-politicize a whole lot of the environment and keep the focus on the big-picture issues.”
Still, “there’s no guarantee – this is a highly entrepreneurial undertaking,” he said.
“This is a great challenge,” said Liebermann, who was the Democrats’ 2000 vice presidential nominee before returning to the Senate after his defeat. “What will help him get re-elected is to do something and then go out and tell the people you did something for them as opposed to saying ‘I didn’t do anything but it was because of those bums over there.”
Ultimately, “somebody’s got to break this vicious cycle,” the senator said.