Politics

07.19.13

A Gang of 81 Surprises Washington

Even in a week of sudden bipartisanship, one No Labels coalition is quietly moving to get things done. Mark McKinnon on the actual legislative progress of the Problem Solvers.

On the hottest week in Washington, Hell froze over.

Just as things seem to be at their very worst in Washington, a funny thing is happening. Bipartisanship is breaking out. Just in the last week, we saw Congress come together to avoid the nuclear option on the filibuster, cut a deal on student-loan rates, and now there’s a new gang of 81.

Eighty-one members of Congress, equally divided between Democrats and Republicans (and some independents) have signed up as members of the No Labels Problem Solvers coalition, and most of them showed up in front of the Capitol to announce a legislative package they’ve been working on called Make Government Work!, which includes nine House bills and eight Senate bills.

The Problem Solvers started just six months ago, with a group of 25 members. Then word started getting out that this group is for real. That it broadly represents everyone from MoveOn Democrats to Tea Party Republicans and everyone in between. That they actually meet. And they’ve discovered they liked a lot of members from the other party. And that they can work together. And get things done. They started off meeting once a month, but then decided it was so productive they wanted to start meeting once a week.

It wasn’t long before the Problem Solvers realized that No Labels is a safe place where they can work across the aisle without having their motives questioned. So the Problem Solvers signed on to a No Labels legislative package designed to address waste and inefficiency in government. And in just a few short months wrote and filed 17 pieces of legislation that The New York Times describes as “a slate of specific legislative proposals with surprising support across the ideological spectrum.”

Now that the members have seen they can work together on this package of ideas, they realize they really can get things done.

The Problem Solvers have established bonds of trust that are now likely to only get stronger, allowing them to continue working cooperatively on other legislative efforts. Now that the members have seen they can work together on this package of ideas, they realize they really can get things done and can move on to other issues and grapple with some of the really tough public-policy debates facing the country.

In the meantime, they’ll be working to make the Make Government Work! package into law, which includes:

No Budget, No Pay: If Congress cannot pass a budget and all annual spending bills on time, members should not get paid.

Take the Time, Save the Dime: Move to a two-year budgeting process.

Don’t Duplicate, Consolidate: Get rid of duplicate agencies and programs identified in 2013 by the Government Accountability Office.

Buy Smarter and Save: Enforce strategic sourcing so separate divisions within a single federal agency do not make independent contracts for common items.

No Adding, No Padding: Stop assuming year-to-year spending increases in agency budgets.

21st-Century Health Care for Heroes: Merge the electronic health-care records of the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Stay in Place, Cut the Waste: Cut 50 percent of agency travel and replace it with video conferencing.

Wasted Energy, Wasted Dollars: Reduce energy waste in federal buildings by incentivizing private companies to identify savings. Contractors would be paid by dollars saved, not with taxpayer dollars.

Plan for Efficient and Effective Government: Create a new Commission for Government Transformation to oversee and remake various federal government programs so they will be more economical, efficient and effective.