No Labels, a national bipartisan political advocacy group, is currently busy establishing a ‘Problem-Solvers Caucus’ in the U.S. House of Representatives. The caucus would include dozens of representatives from both parties who can agree to work together to accomplish a pre-determined set of goals -- the “National Strategic Agenda.”
The National Strategic Agenda contains some fairly straightforward policy goals, including job creation, budget balancing, entitlement reform, and energy security. If successful, No Labels could be at the forefront of some of the most effective bipartisan legislation in over two decades.
Can it work? Only time will tell.
But the model of the organization seems sound. Historically, the most effective governing bodies in the United States were bipartisan coalitions of interest groups who came together around certain policy goals. Usually these have been dominated by a single party, as the Republican majority after the Civil War and the New Deal coalition of the 1930s-1970s demonstrate, but not always.And even in the post-Southern Strategy political arena, when the Republican Party has been more ideologically conservative and the Democrats have been more ideologically liberal, there have been plenty of instances of short-term bipartisan coalitions coming together around certain policy goals.
The Ronald Reagan-Tip O’Neill alliance for tax reform in the 80s and the Bill Clinton-Newt Gingrich alliance for welfare reform in the 90s demonstrate the continued viability of political coalitions.
The last two decades, however, have been far more partisan than the 80s or 90s. The Third Way Democrats declined in power as the Iraq War drew out the more radical wings of the party, while President Obama’s election birthed the tea party movement that dragged the Republican Party further to the right. In such a polarized climate, is bipartisan problem-solving even possible?
For various reasons, it really should be. Every few years a poll comes out showing that Americans, as a whole, care less about political games and more about bipartisan solutions, and it is this sensible majority that is least represented in today’s polarized Congress.
Thus, although the few remaining Republicans and Democrats willing to reach across the aisle have less backing by their own parties, they more adequately represent the views of the broad majority of the American people.
More importantly, one should note that such problem-solving Republicans and Democrats often have more in common with each other -- ideologically and temperamentally -- than they do with the ideologically extreme leftists and rightists in their own parties.
Thus, although they would normally be on opposite sides of the aisle from each other, mainstream Republicans and Democrats have an opportunity to forge a problem-solving coalition, perhaps even a problem-solving majority, in the center of the political spectrum.
This opportunity could only be available in a political atmosphere dominated by the Ted Cruz's of the right and the Elizabeth Warrens of the left. We are already seeing such activity in the House -- Speaker Boehner, for example, has been more receptive to working with Democrats because his right flank continues to defy his policy agenda.
No Labels, which has historically appealed more to sensible politicians than to candidates on the fringe of the political spectrum, may well benefit from this new political dynamic in its quest to get a National Strategic Agenda drafted and put into practice by sitting legislators. Many problem-solving congressmen have already joined the Problem Solvers Caucus.But as an interesting dynamic, it is important to note that membership in No Labels and the Problem Solvers Caucus is not open solely to moderates. There are many members of Congress further to the left and right committed to the problem-solving goals No Labels has articulated, and they are as important as any of the ideologically-centrist Problem Solvers.
No Labels, then, has assembled an interesting coalition in Congress from across the political spectrum -- any elected official willing to commit to certain broad nonpartisan goals for the benefit of the country, goals that happen to take on a somewhat centrist hue.
Can this new politics of problem-solving based on pre-agreed-upon goals work? Will the coalition last? Will the history books speak of the heroic political moxie of No Labels?
Again, only time will tell. But for now, it appears that there is a new home for pragmatic statesmen in both parties. That home is in the problem-solving center, aligned against the excesses of the ideological right and left. Let’s hope the new model works, and that a National Strategic Agenda is put into effect because of it.
Photo Source: AP