July 2, 2012

America's political system is in crisis. In June, the Gallup Poll measured Congress' approval rating at 17 percent, and that pathetic number represented a rebound from Gallup's all-time low congressional approval measurement of 10 percent in February.

Congress is ground zero for Americans' discontent with the nation's political landscape — and with good reason. The institution's polarization — too many members of both parties place ideological purity over effective government and compromise — has diminished its effectiveness and its reputation.

While the situation is depressing, serious efforts to force political reform into the 2012 campaign dialogue are under way.

Notably, the No Labels organization which boasts Republican, Democratic and independent members, is working to generate grassroots support for its 12  Make Congress Work proposals.

The dozen reform measures include ideas such as withholding congressional pay if Congress fails to a pass “a budget and all spending bills on time.” That would get their attention.

According to the No Labels group, the legislative branch has managed to pass spending bills on time on only four occasions since 1952.

Other proposals include requiring the Senate to vote “up or down” on all presidential appointments that require confirmation within 90 days of the nomination. The proposal would make government more effective and stop senators from stalling appointments to further their personal agendas.

Additional proposals include requiring Congress to work three full weeks each month, requiring monthly bipartisan meetings and setting up a British-style question-and-answer session with lawmakers and the president.

Some proposals are more realistic than others, but the program, which can be found at, merits discussion. Voters should ask House and Senate candidates about these ideas and others possible reforms.

No Labels isn't alone in pushing for reform. Former U.S. Sen. Bob Kerrey, a Nebraska Democrat who is seeking to return to the Senate, told the  New York Times that he supports a constitutional amendment banning party caucuses and instituting nonpartisan congressional elections. The idea is a long shot, but it shines a spotlight on the central problem of polarization.

Kerrey says he is running again to seek real solutions to the nation's fiscal problems. In a statement on his campaign website, Kerrey wrote, “There is simply no way to solve these problems from behind partisan lines. Anyone who reliably votes for either side's partisan agenda will be incapable of dealing with the crisis.”

America desperately needs more candidates with similarly independent, problem-solving approaches.

Change won't happen overnight, but we hope enough members of Congress will see the light before the nation falls off the fiscal cliff.

The 2012 election needs aggressive demands from voters for Congress to drop the partisan games and address the nation's budget problems.

Neither party should expect to get all it wants. The time has come to put away the rhetorical bombs and work together.

No matter who wins in November, good faith cooperation is essential from both sides of the aisle.

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