THE BLOG

Make Congress Work! A "No Labels" Action Plan

12/21/2011 11:36 am ET | Updated Feb 20, 2012

Even in this winter of our political discontent and disunity, Americans are passionately united behind a simple idea:

We're fed up with politics.

And we want our government to work again.

That's why as part of my second act as a recovering politician, I helped to co-found No Labels, a national grassroots movement, now involving nearly 200,000 citizens: Democrats, Republicans, and Independents. We represent a broad diversity of ideologies, but we all believe that it's critical to put aside our labels on occasion and do what's best for our country.

Fundamentally, we recognize that there are common sense solutions to the seemingly intractable policy issues that plague our body politic -- from the economy to the environment; from immigration to education.  But as a result of hyperpartisan warfare, our government is polarized and paralyzed -- seemingly incapable of solving the nation's very real problems.

Over the past year, No Labels' citizens network, with representatives from every congressional district, have worked to develop reform ideas to help rebuild our democracy.

And last week, we announced a concrete plan of action to Make Congress Work -- a package with a dozen substantive proposals, most of which don't require the passage of new legislation, or any new spending.  There's no partisan advantage to be gained, no special interest break to secure.  Instead, the Make Congress Work plan includes simple, straightforward proposals to break the gridlock in Washington, reduce hyper-partisanship, and promote constructive dialogue and bipartisan action in order to deal with the nation's toughest problems.

Click here to read the full Make Congress Work action plan. Our twelve proposals are summarized below:

  1. No Budget, No Pay: Congress has passed its spending bills on time only 4 times since 1952.  Recent failures to pass a timely budget led to significant disruptions of public services. No Labels believes that if Congress can't make spending and budget decisions on time, they shouldn't get paid.
  2. Up or Down Votes on Presidential Appointments: As of late 2011, more than 200 presidentially appointed positions remain unfilled, as senators of both parties have held up nominations, sometimes for trivial reasons. No Labels believes that all presidential nominations should be confirmed or rejected within 90 days of the nomination being received by the Senate.
  3. Filibuster Reform: In its first 50 years, the filibuster was used only 35 times -- in only the most extraordinary circusmtances. Over the last two years alone, the filibuster was employed over 100 times -- often with merely a quick announcement --  as a partisan means to disrupt majority rule. No Labels believes that if Senators want to filibuster, they must take to the floor and hold it through sustained debate.  We also believe that filibusters never should be permitted to prevent floor debate, as they are paradoxically now.
  4. Empower the Sensible Majority: Often times, congressional leaders halt popular legislation from reaching the floor to protect partisan advantages.  No Labels believes that every Congressman should have the ability to anonymously sign discharge petitions to enable bills to go to the floor for a vote.  If a majority signs the petition, the names would be released publicly, and the bill could be voted up or down.
  5. Make Members Come to Work: In 2012, the U.S. House has scheduled only two weeks when it will be in session for all five days. No Labels believes that Congress should put in a five-day work week like the rest of us -- with three weeks in DC, and then one week back home with their constituents.
  6. Question Time for the President: In January 2010, President Obama attended a House GOP retreat to debate health care publicly.  We haven't seen anything like it, before or since.  No Labels believes we should follow the example of the British Parliament and schedule regular, nationally-televised question time for the President and Congress.
  7. Fiscal Report to Congress -- Hear It. Read It. Sign It: One of the greatest obstacles to fixing our economy is that we can't agree on a method for calculating the balance sheet.  No Labels believes that Congress and the President should work off the same set of numbers, and that a nonpartisan leader -- such as the Comptroller General -- should deliver an annual televised fiscal update, in-person, to a joint session of Congress.
  8. No Pledge But the Oath of Office: 238 House members have signed a pledge to never raise taxes. Another 110 have signed a pledge to never cut Social Security benefits. That's 80% of Congress refusing to consider compromise on two of the nation's biggest budget issues. No Labels believes that Members should make no pledge but the pledge of allegiance to the flag and their formal oath of office.
  9. Monthly Bipartisan Gatherings: While there always has been partisanship, there recently was a time when members of Congress nurtured relationships with colleagues on the other side of the aisle. Today, they are more likely to glare at each other from their partisan encampments.  No Labels believes that the House and Senate should undertake monthly bipartisan gatherings, private and off-the-record, bringing in objective experts to brief them on policy issues.
  10. Bipartisan Seating: During President Obama's 2011 State of the Union speech, some Members of Congress left their partisan bunkers to sit next to someone from another party. While not an enormous policy step, it was a powerful symbol of civility and comity. No Labels believes that all joint meetings of Congress should have mixed partisan seating, and committees should arrange seating to promote bipartisanship.
  11. Bipartisan Leadership Committee: While ideologically polar opposites, President Ronald Reagan and House Speaker Tip O'Neill met regularly, had a cordial relationship, and worked together to make headway on major issues such as entitlement and tax reform.  Now, every meeting in DC seems like a partisan pep rally.  No Labels believes that Congress should form a bipartisan congressional leadership committee to serve as a forum for discussing both legislation and substantive policy solutions.  The committee would meet weekly, and then monthly with the President.
  12. No Negative Campaigns Against Incumbents: Just a few decades ago, informal custom prevented one party leader from campaigning against a leader of the other party.  This practice now has devolved into a cycle of conspiracy and retribution.  No Labels believes that incumbents from one party should not conduct negative campaigns against sitting members of the opposing party -- no appearances in attack ads or direct mailings, and no traveling to play partisan attack dog.
More than a dozen current and former Members of Congress joined us last week to announce our action plan. And throughout 2012, No Labels will conduct an intensive campaign to mobilize one million Americans behind our efforts to Make Congress Work. Our goal is simple: To see most, if not all, of these reforms adopted when Congress convenes in January 2013.

This is our movement's first step.  But it's a big one.

If you too are tired of our poisoned political system, click here to become part of the solution, part of the first-of-a-kind grassroots movement to reform Congress from within.

The time to act is now.  Will you join us?

Together, we can Make Congress Work again.  Together, we can help restore history's greatest democracy to its rightful perch, as a light unto the nations.