Daniel Hare, guest columnist: No Labels approach offers hope for America

(originally published October 4, 2015 in the Waco Tribune-Herald)

The Summer of Trump has been an extraordinary phenomenon to observe. Like him or not, most people agree he has hit on a mood in the country that traditional politicians are simply not getting the job done. There is discontent, in some cases extreme discontent, with the political machine in Washington and those who run it. And though Mr. Trump gets the most coverage, the dissatisfaction transcends party, as evidenced by the significant and growing support for Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.

What is behind all this? While you’ll hear several possibilities based on who’s talking, I submit one primary issue is the constant gridlock caused by the refusal of elected officials to work across party lines to tackle our country’s greatest challenges.

The current political climate, created by a perfect storm of partisan-drawn districts, a polarized media and enormous sums of money and lobbyists influencing the process, has given little to no incentive for bipartisan cooperation. Therefore, the only way major legislation is passed is with straight party-line votes and only on the rare occasions when one party has both the White House and veto-proof majorities in the House and Senate. Obamacare is the most recent example — and even its supporters would admit the way it was passed was not ideal and led to the many legal challenges in the years since.

It was not always this way. Republican President Ronald Reagan and Democratic Speaker Tip O’Neill worked together to pass the last major bills on Social Security, immigration and tax reform. Democratic President Bill Clinton and Republican Speaker Newt Gingrich passed welfare reform and the last set of balanced budgets.

In today’s era, those achievements would be largely impossible. Yet in the midst of sadness, frustration and disappointment, I am optimistic. I am optimistic because in a Wall Street Journal/NBC poll following the 2014 elections, 63 percent of respondents wanted the new Congress to make compromises to gain consensus on legislation, as opposed to 30 percent who wanted them to stick to their campaign positions, even if it meant no consensus on legislation. I am optimistic because everyday people like you and me are starting to take action to encourage, promote and incentivize political leaders to work together again. I am optimistic because throughout our history, Americans of all political stripes have found ways to bridge our differences and come together to solve big problems.

One group of citizens taking up the cause is No Labels, a bipartisan grassroots organization co-chaired by former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman and former Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman. The organization has already had a major impact on Washington by successfully leading the effort to persuade Congress to adopt a No Budget, No Pay bill, tying our political leaders’ paychecks to doing their jobs. And on Oct. 12 in Manchester, New Hampshire, many of the 2016 presidential candidates will attend the first-ever No Labels Problem Solver Convention. There 1,000 undeclared voters will ask questions of the candidates about how they plan to end the gridlock in Washington and solve our nation’s problems. Candidates will be asked to commit to pursuing a national strategic agenda. This requires the new president to get together with leaders of the opposing party within the first 30 days in office to tackle a major policy goal — for instance, create 25 million new jobs over the next 10 years.

These are the first of many steps in the long road toward getting our political system in Washington working again. I encourage you to talk to your members of Congress, get involved in No Labels and evaluate the 2016 candidates through a prism of who is going to be this country’s problem solver. If we work together, Washington will work again.

Daniel Hare is director of employer relations at Baylor Law School, an attorney and a No Labels supporter, volunteer and District Leader (TX-17).

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