No Labels and other bipartisan groups just might emerge as some of the major national problem solvers of our generation. Let's hope so.
The North Country's congressman, Bill Owens of Plattsburgh, has affiliated himself with No Labels as well as with a bipartisan working group within the House. So have fellow upstate New York representatives Chris Gibson and Richard Hanna. That says a lot for our part of the country as a seat of national pragmatism.
Owens is a Democrat, the other two are Republicans, and all are relative moderates - but No Labels isn't just for moderates.
"We welcome people left, right and everything in between as long as they are willing to collaborate with one another to seek a shared success for America," No Labels' website says.
Such coalitions aren't there to take positions on controversial issues like abortion or gun control, the way parties do. Hey, Americans disagree; that's natural. But when inter-party dialogue turns into bitter gridlock, the way it has in Washington, what's needed is a way to get things done to facilitate the compromises that are essential in the system of government set up by our nation's founding fathers. The more members of Congress agree to work together to take care of business, the better.
Some of the things that need to be done involve deep partisan divides: budgets, job appointments, taxes, gun control and immigration reform. For the most part, each party is pushing an "all or nothing" agenda these days. Republicans want to fundamentally shrink the federal government, seeing the status quo as a road to bankruptcy. The Democrats' agenda, echoed by President Obama in his inauguration and State of the Union speeches, might allow some spending cuts but won't budge on many of them. The president, in his State of the Union speech Tuesday, talked of not adding to the deficit - but the deficit has been more than a trillion dollars in each of the last four years.
This is about working together for the common good, despite fundamental differences of opinion. It's also about giving Americans a little faith in Congress, one of the nation's least trusted institutions.
These are No Labels' five key principles of political leadership:
1. Tell the full truth.
2. Govern for the future.
3. Put the country first.
4. Be responsible.
5. Work together.
It has put together specific action plans for Congress and the presidency. You can check them out on www.nolabels.org, but here are a few of their recommendations:
-"No Budget, No Pay: If Congress can't pass a budget and all annual spending bills on time, members of Congress should not get paid."
-Get rid of stalling tactics for presidential appointments.
-Require a filibuster to actually involve talking on the floor (not just intending to).
-Require Congress members to show up for sessions rather than staying home in their districts.
-Allow Congress members to take no pledges except the oath of office.
-Start a monthly forum for Congress to question the president, an annual fiscal update so Congress is dealing with the same set of facts, and monthly bipartisan gatherings.
-Ensure the president holds at least one news conference per month.
-Although a line-item veto is unconstitutional, allow the president to send line items back to Congress for up or down votes.
We're not sure about some of the group's proposals, such as several that would expand presidential power, but then again, by its mandate, the group would probably mediate or back down from proposals that didn't have broad approval.
During the State of the Union speech, Reps. Owens, Gibson and Hanna sat with a bipartisan group of 40 lawmakers wearing No Labels pins. The president talked a lot about bipartisanship that night, but since his re-election he's rolled out an agenda that's bound to face strong opposition. That's his prerogative, but we're glad to see the No Labels problem solvers in Congress.