In January I wrote about a new bipartisan movement in Congress called the Problem Solvers. There were 25 founding members, including three Georgia representatives – Republican Jack Kingston and Democrats John Barrow and Sanford Bishop. The group has grown to 63 members in the House and Senate, nearly evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats. New members join weekly.
The most important characteristic of Problem Solvers is their commitment to putting country before party. Only hyperpartisan ideologues could disagree with that guiding principle.
THE PROBLEM Solvers group is becoming a force in the Congress. They meet regularly to build relationships and trust across the aisle, and look for common ground to solve the nation’s problems. They understand no one gets everything they want, whether in business, life or politics. The meetings of the Problem Solvers are the only venue on Capitol Hill where numerous members of Congress meet in a bipartisan setting.
This approach is a welcome contrast to today’s dysfunction in Washington, D.C. You have only to look at the Senate leaders to see striking examples of bipartisan futility.
Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid didn’t bring a budget to the Senate floor, not wanting to force Democratic senators to cast difficult votes that might antagonize their constituents. Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell famously declared his number one priority was to make President Obama a one-term president. At the time we were conducting two wars and suffering through the worst economy since the Great Depression.
NEITHER PARTY is blameless in prioritizing politicians’ personal power over citizens’ interests. By placing political goals ahead of governing, Reid and McConnell were, and are, emblematic of today’s broken Washington culture. Polls consistently show Americans understand this. Our trust in Congress hovers at all-time lows between 9 and 17 percent.
The Problem Solvers are sponsored by the No Labels organization. Led by former Republican presidential candidate Jon Huntsman and Democratic U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, No Labels is dedicated to making government work again. Their slogan is “Stop Fighting, Start Fixing!” and they focus on improving the process of governance as opposed to taking specific policy positions.
This is what allows members of both parties to be comfortable within the No Labels community – they have the latitude to maintain
their respective political principles.
No Labels is a big tent with a broad spectrum of members’ political views.
Some of No Labels’ proposals are: no budget, no pay; filibuster reform; 90-day up-or-down votes on presidential appointees; and no pledges but the oath of office. (More information is at NoLabels.org.) Both parties support or fight these commonsense proposals depending on who is in power in the Congress and White House at the time. The only reason they have not been adopted is that the parties value temporary political advantage more than longer-term improved governing.
The public clamor for solutions rather than ideology is what drives the rapid growth of the Problem Solvers.
Most important, the Problem Solvers group is not a Pollyanna approach to governing. It may be a long road ahead to reach responsible governance in Washington, but it can be done. It took a long time for our politics to get off the tracks, and it will take a while to get them back on. Meanwhile, there is growing political leadership working toward rational politics, and we citizens should be encouraged by, and support, that process.
Two of Georgia’s Problem Solvers are strong potential candidates for the 2014 Senate seat being vacated by retiring U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss.
Although neither had declared his candidacy at this writing, John Barrow and Jack Kingston are veteran lawmakers who have avoided the extremes of their parties. Their participation in the Problem Solvers group demonstrates their political maturity. They recognize American politics work best through bipartisan cooperation.
IT IS SAID that the Senate is the saucer in which the hot tea brewed by the House is cooled. Barrow and Kingston have demonstrated the coolness and judgment to serve honorably and effectively in the senior body. An election between two reasonable Problem Solvers – each representing the principles of their party while putting America first – would serve Georgians well.
(The writer is a retired U.S. Navy officer. He lives and writes in Savannah.)