Bold 'No Labels' Reforms Would 'Make Congress Work!'

No Labels, a political reform group formed primarily by centrist political figures, unveiled a surprisingly bold congressional reform plan Dec. 13 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. Democratic, Republican and independent office-holders and former leaders described their plan in the historic Caucus RJoe Liebermanoom of the Cannon House Office Building under a banner saying, "Make Congress Work!" Their plan, unusual in its scope, included a requirement that U.S. presidents answer questions each month on the floor of the House or Senate, much like the United Kingdom's prime minister does at the House of Commons.

“People don’t realize how little we get to talk with the president,” said U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman, an independent party candidate from Connecticut, at left. Other provisions in the 12-point plan would sharply limit filibusters and force members to give up their pay if they failed to pass a budget. “Do your work or you don’t get paid,” U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper (D-TN) told the audience of more than 400, prompting strong applause. “Even if it takes six months,” added U.S. Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV), one of a dozen elected officials on stage for the kick-off event.

My radio show, Washington Update, explored the announcement with No Labels co-founder Jonathan Miller Dec. 15 as part of an overview of a news-filled week in the nation's capital. Tune in for an archive version of the show broadcast live nationwide with producer and co-host Scott Draughon, founder of the MTL network. Miller is a longtime state official in his native Kentucky. In addition to discussing the No Labels reform program, we'll analyze the current Presidential race, a cutback in federal contract awards to small companies, and the legacy of longtime Democratic Congressman Barney Frank of Massachusetts, who recently announced his retirement at the end of his term.

To listen, click here for archive. Mac users need “Parallels.”

No Labels announced that its recent poll showed that "a staggering 94 percent of registered voters" believe congressional gridlock “is hurting the U.S. economy” and the same proportion of respondents (94 percent) said they completely agree or somewhat agree with the notion that “the U.S. would have a better standing in the world” if Congress were less gridlocked. The same poll showed that 89 percent of voters believe “things are being log jammed” in Washington, as opposed to a mere 11 percent who believe “things are getting done.”  But an overwhelming 82 percent of those polled would favor changes to congressional procedures to “streamline some of the procedures” – a clear mandate for action.

“From my earliest days in Congress, I’ve been a proud supporter of what No Labels is trying to accomplish,” commented Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) in an announcement. “The people of West Virginia don’t want Democratic solutions or Republican solutions. They want American solutions. I’m proud to be part of No Labels’ work to bring people together and make Washington work better.”

Founded last fall, No Labels seeks to create better government by reducing political partisanship, primarily at the House and Senate.The group convened with 1,000 founders in New York City last December. The group's 12-point action plan is organized by the following objectives. Breaking Gridlock  Promoting Constructive Discussion, and Reducing Polarization. A full list an explanation of each idea can be found below.

Jonathan Miller

Miller is a former two-term elected treasurer of Kentucky. A Democrat and attorney, Miller retired in March as Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear’s Cabinet Secretary of Finance and Administration. He created a personal website called “The Recovering Politician.” Miller is the author of the critically-acclaimed The Compassionate Community: Ten Values to Unite America. In his nearly two decades of public service, his other senior positions in state and federal government include work as deputy chief of staff of the U.S. Department of Energy, and legislative director for Congressman Jim Cooper (D-TN). He practices law in Lexington, KY, and blogs for the Huffington Post and his own Recovering Politician site.

Today's other guest is Stuart WeisbergStuart Weisberg discusses on Dec. 15 Barney Frank's announcement to retire from Congress at the expiration of his term. Weisberg authored the first biography of the Massachusetts Democrat, the 2009 book, Barney Frank: The Story of America's Only Left-Handed, Gay, Jewish Congressman. "Not many Congressmen are worthy of a book, but Stuart Weisberg s carefully researched and authoritative account proves that Barney s life and career are indeed the stuff of fine biography," according to a book blurb by longtime Washington pundits Cokie and Steven Roberts. Weisberg is an attorney who spent ten years as staff director and chief counsel for the House Government Operations Subcommittee on Employment and Housing. He directed the subcommittee s lengthy investigation in 1989 of what came to known as the HUD scandal. During the Clinton administration, he served as chair of the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission, an independent federal adjudicative agency. He lives in Bethesda, Maryland. Details.

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No Label Reform Plan 'Make Congress Work!'

Breaking Gridlock
1. Members of Congress will be docked pay for each day that they fail to pass the budget and all appropriations bills for the next fiscal year before the prior fiscal year ends.

2. All presidential nominations for executive and judicial positions must be confirmed or rejected within 90 days after the Senate receives the completed nomination.

3. Fix the filibuster: If senators want to halt action on a bill, they must take to the floor and hold it through sustained debate; end filibusters on motions to proceed to debate.

4. Empower the sensible majority by reforming House and Senate procedures to fast-track legislation with majority support.

5. Change the congressional work schedule so that Congress can get the American people’s work done.

Promoting Constructive Discussion
6. Institute a regular “question period” that brings Congress and the president together.

7. Institute an annual report to a joint session of Congress on America’s fiscal condition, coordinated and delivered by a high-ranking non-partisan official such as the Comptroller General.

Reducing Polarization
8. Members of Congress should be bound by no pledges except the Oath of Office.

9. Institute monthly nonpartisan gatherings in each chamber (off the record).

10. Eliminate partisan seating in all joint meetings or sessions and on committees and subcommittees.

11. Form a nonpartisan Congressional Leadership Committee.

12. Incumbents of one party should not conduct negative campaigns against members of the opposing party, but members are free to campaign in support of candidates from their own party. (Open seat elections would be exempted.)

No Labels laid out the entire 12-point plan in its new policy book, “Make Congress Work,” on how to make Congress work again.  The book is meant to offer guidance not just for lawmakers, but also for Americans who have signed on to help bring change.  Approximately 400 citizen leaders join the group in Washington on Tuesday for the launch of its new action plan.

With the help of these citizens, lawmakers and other prominent leaders, No Labels hopes to change the system in Washington so that Congress will begin to forge real solutions to the nation’s most pressing problems.

Relevant News Articles

Slate, Stop the Filibuster, Fix Presidential Appointments: Is “No Labels” the first centrist group ever to have good ideas? David Weigel, Dec. 14, 2011. Have we been too hard on the centrists? I just spent most of a day with these creatures, learning their language of applause and mutual congratulation. By the end, I was shocked: They were on to something. One year ago, when the group No Labels announced itself with an all-day congratulation-fest in New York, Politico’s Ben Smith asked whether it was basically a Democratic front group. The only Republicans onstage, he wrote, “had recently lost primary races.” In 2011, political reporters knew No Labels as the guys who sent out “action” emails with no actual policy demands. But this was before Dec. 13, and the smoothly choreographed launch of an actual No Labels plan. “Make Congress Work!” (the exclamation point is theirs) is a list of 12 ideas, crowd-sourced over a couple of months and debuted by a panel that included two actual elected Republicans, Rep. Tom Petri of Wisconsin and Sen. Dean Heller of Nevada. There are a few nonclunkers among those 12 ideas. Presidential appointments: Give them up-or-down votes within 90 days. Filibusters: If people are going to do it, make them stand up and empty their lungs out, Jimmy Stewart-style.

Epoch Times, Make Congress Work the Focus of No Labels Group, Shar Adams, Dec. 14, 2011. No Virtual Filibustering, No Pledging to outside groups and most importantly, No Budget No Pay are just some of the catch-cries of No Labels, a new grass-roots movement aiming to make Congress work. There are no park camping or banner holding operatives like Occupy Wall Street here. The coalition of 180,000 members including a bipartisan selection of lawmakers, former political staff, independent citizens, and community leaders, has gone straight to the heart of the matter—Capitol Hill.