One upon a time, education was known as a bipartisan issue in Congress. The passage of No Child Left Behind, for example, was heralded by Democrats like Ted Kennedy and George Miller, as well as Republicans like John Boehner and former President George W. Bush.
That fact was the cause of much nostalgia during the most recent round of No Child Left Behind reauthorization talks -- because it's not exactly true anymore. The rancorous hyperpartisan atmosphere that characterizes Congress has certainly affected the legislative process on education issues (despite, it should be noted, bipartisan support for one House charter school bill).
I was thinking about this yesterday when I was reporting on a story for HuffPost Politics about one attempt to bust up partisan gridlock. A group called No Labels is relaunching today with former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman (R) and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W. Va.) at the helm -- and with a class of legislative "problem solvers."
From our story:
As part of this new push, No Labels has identified 25 "problem solvers" in Congress -- including Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.), Rep. Scott DesJarlais (R-Tenn.) and Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) -- who have all committed to monthly meetings together, according to No Labels founder and former Kentucky state comptroller Jonathan Miller. Organizers hope to have between 75 and 100 "problem solvers" in Congress identified by the end of the year.
Some organizers say that many "problem solving" representatives feel that the partisan tone is set by House and Senate leadership, and so far, when presented with the option, the leadership has chosen not to partake in No Labels. "The leadership aren't wrapping their arms around us, and they aren't joining us," Miller said. "But we're hopeful that when members approach them with ways to make Congress work, the leadership will feel compelled to take their ideas and run with them if they want to stay leaders."
The group is also pushing a legislative agenda that focuses not on the nation's hot-button issues, but rather on a variety of ways to help unstick Congress. No Labels is pushing filibuster reform, a law that would require members of Congress to pass a budget before picking up their paychecks, bipartisan seating arrangement plans and bipartisan monthly mixer meetings so lawmakers can get to know each other.
Here's the full list of the group's congressional "problem solvers," courtesy of No Labels:
Sen. Mark Begich (D-AK)
Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV)
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV)
Rep. John Barrow (D-GA-12)
Rep. Sanford Bishop (D-GA-02)
Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI-01)
Rep. Jim Cooper (D-TN-05)
Rep. Charlie Dent (R-PA-15)
Rep. Scott DesJarlais (R-TN-04)
Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick (R-PA-08)
Rep. Michael Grimm (R-NY-11)
Rep. Janice Hahn (D-CA-44)
Rep. Richard Hanna (R-NY-22)
Rep. Jim Himes (D-CT-04)
Rep. Lynn Jenkins (R-KS-02)
Rep. Jack Kingston (R-GA-01)
Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL-16)
Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-IL-03)
Rep. Dave Loebsack (D-IA-02)
Rep. Jim Moran (D-VA-08)
Rep. Reid Ribble (R-WI-08)
Rep. Scott Rigell (R-VA-02)
Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-OR-05)
Rep. Peter Welch (D-VT-AL)
And there's also Manchin and Sen. Angus King (I-Maine).
The first thing I thought when looking at this list is that it's totally devoid of some of the biggest names in education policy -- there's little representation from the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pension (HELP) Committee and the House Education & the Workforce Committee. There's no mention of committee chairs Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Rep. John Kline (R-Minn.). No mention of ranking members Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) And legislators who contributed heavily to the HELP committee NCLB markups, such as Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) and Sen. Mike Bennet (D-Colo.) aren't on there, either. (Bennet in particular bemoaned partisan gridlock on education when I interviewed him in summer 2011. "For the life of me, it's hard to see why we can't make progress," he told me.)
So what gives? No Labels organizers told me the opportunity to become a "problem solver" was presented to everyone in the legislature. If that's true, why aren't education folks involved? The commitment to monthly bipartisan meetings isn't exactly onerous. No Labels' previous incarnation was seen as largely ineffective -- maybe the education-y legislators think it'll be a waste of time? Or maybe we'll see them in the bigger group later this year as it expands? Food for thought.