09/30/2013 03:32 pm ET Updated Nov 30, 2013

It's Time to Put People First

On Tuesday, if the United States Congress fails to pass a temporary funding bill called a continuing resolution, the federal government will shut down. While essential services like air traffic control, and homeland security will continue to function, many employees, including our military serving overseas, will report to work, but not receive pay. Many federal services will also cease: our National Parks will close, visa and passport applications will come to a halt, and the Centers for Disease Control will close. A shutdown will affect millions of Americans, and could also impact our slowly recovering economy.

How did we get to this point of impasse and what can Congress do to begin functioning in some sort of regular process?

First, Congress has failed to understand how to operate under divided government. Democrats control the Senate and the White House, and Republicans control the House of Representatives. By its very definition, divided government requires negotiation and cooperation. For example, President Reagan and Speaker Tip O'Neill, or President Clinton and Speaker Newt Gingrich, understood how to work together. But today, many lawmakers seem to have an all or nothing mentality.

Second, Congress has failed to send the president a budget since 2009. Instead, government has kept its doors open through a series of temporary measures that kick the can down the road for a few months at a time.

Third, failure to pass a budget means every few months the federal government runs up against its borrowing limit, more commonly called the debt ceiling. That means every few months, Congress has to pass legislation to increase its borrowing capacity to pay off the bills that the government has already racked up.

Here's what we must do to get Congress to function.

Congress must pass a responsible, bipartisan budget. Right now, both the House and Senate have passed different budgets that are about $100 billion apart. In the past, each body would send representatives to a conference committee to negotiate. As of today, the Senate has appointed conferees. The House has not. We must begin a conference committee so that we can pass a budget and send it to the president to be signed into law. We need a reconciled and negotiated budget that has Democratic and Republican priorities, or Congress has failed to do its core job. That's why I've been a leading proponent of No Budget No Pay, which says if Congress doesn't do its job and pass a responsible budget, they shouldn't get paid.

We also need a long-term plan that deals with our debt, which is now approaching $17 trillion. We have to address the debt for our long-term stability and economic growth. We have seen many ideas introduced, but so far, the President has failed to endorse one. Mr. President, if you can't select a plan, I suggest you take a look at your own debt commission's recommendation, the Simpson-Bowles plan, and use this as at least a starting point. This is about our kids' and grand kids' futures and we are running out of time.

Finally, Speaker Boehner has to get rid of the Hastert rule, a rule that means that if he doesn't have 218 Republican votes, he won't bring a bill to the floor. This rule allows as few as 40 Representatives to hold hostage any bill. Speaker Boehner, do what your predecessors have done and pass some legislation with Democratic and Republican support. Without any Democratic support or input, it is unlikely your bills will pass the Senate, or be signed into law by the President. In divided government, compromise is necessary.

Most of all, we need to remember that the first word in our nation's name is "United." Only together can we move this country forward. A bipartisan group that I'm a part of called the No Labels Problem Solvers, brings 40 Republicans and 40 Democrats together regularly to find ways we can work together. We've already introduced a bipartisan package of nine "Make Government Work" bills. But we can't move our country forward alone.

We can fix Washington, if we follow the examples of our predecessors and take common sense ideas from both parties, and put the interest of the American people ahead of party politics. Mr. President, Mr. Speaker, Mr. Majority Leader it's in your hands. Do what is right. Many of us are ready to begin working and solving our nations problems. But first we need leadership that lets us do that work. The people are watching.