Living in harmony: Republicans, Democrats, independents working together

Lorain Watters, SHF Wire Reporter

WASHINGTON – The government is divided, a Democrat leading a Republican-driven Congress, but they can still work together: That is the hope of No Labels.

So far, the president and Congress agree on two things: rebuilding infrastructure to create jobs and increasing American exports.

President Barack Obama said in a press conference Wednesday that since Sen. Mitch McConnell, likely to become Senate majority leader, and Speaker John Boehner are in the same party, they can work together to decide what the GOP agenda will be.

“They’ve got sufficient majorities to make real progress on some of these issues,” Obama said. “And I’m certainly going to be spending a lot more time with them now because that’s the only way that we’re going to be able to get some stuff done.”

Founded in 2010, No Labels is made up of Republicans, Democrats and independents who use what they call new politics – opposing parties working together to solve problems.

The group will be working with a consulting firm to create a national strategic agenda that will be unveiled Oct. 5, 2015, in New Hampshire.

This agenda will have elected officials, policy experts, business leaders and citizens from opposing parties work together to develop policy proposals. The proposals will focus on creating 25 million new jobs over the next 10 years, balancing the federal budget by 2030, securing Medicare and Social Security for 75 years and creating an energy policy by 2024.

Ideally, the agenda would be adopted by 2016 presidential candidates.

Nancy Jacobson, founder of No Labels, said that the substance of these goals has not been worked out yet, but the group is working on the specifics. Jacobson is a Democratic Party fundraiser and worked for President Bill Clinton as finance chair for the Democratic National Committee and Democratic Leadership Council.

She said that, first, the parties need to agree on a process and then work out the policy details.

“We’re on to something here, a new theory of change. We’re working to solve the gridlock,” Jacobson said. “This is the way to unite the country.”

There are 85 members of Congress who agree with what this project stands for, 50 of whom have a No Labels Seal of Approval that showcases them as supporters for the organization. Some of the members include, Rep. Pat Meehan, R-Pa., Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-Texas, Rep. Leonard Lance, R-N.J., Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., and Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.

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Iowa state Sen. Jeff Danielson, a Democrat from the Cedar Valley, has been a supporter of the group since September. He has been working with others to help put the national strategic agenda together and recruit more No Labels supporters.

He said building grassroots in all states is important, so that Congress can work together on the  strategic agenda.

“If you’re a member of Congress, and can’t work with these ideas, then you may want to find something else to do,” Danielson said. “This is the most important thing we’re doing in D.C. right now, and that might seem bold to some people.”

Danielson said if most Americans think that gridlock in Washington cannot be broken because the government is divided, Iowa has shown that opposing parties can work together.

As of this month, Iowa is among 14 states with divided government.

Danielson said Iowa has passed the largest tax cuts in the state’s history, reformed education, expanded renewable tax credits with votes from both parties.

“If you ask Iowans if they’re happy with what’s going on, we get high marks. Those same voters when asked about D.C. gave the president the lowest marks,” he said. “I hope Iowa can be a shining light for D.C.”

Danielson will continue to recruit for No Labels to make sure the agenda is ready when presidential candidates begin to campaign.

“We’re not proud of the gridlock and grievances in D.C.,” he said. “We’re committed to sitting down to work on ideas, see the boundaries and limits of each proposal, and do the hard work of governing. We’re going to show members of Congress and future presidential candidates that we know what it’s like because we went through the same process.”

Mississippi state Rep. Toby Barker, a Republican from Meridian, joined No Labels after he heard about it online and found the philosophy appealing.

“Our nation faces tremendous challenges – rising health-care costs and Social Security sticking around for my generation – but they aren’t insurmountable,” Barker said. “America can rise to the occasion, but we need to step up and make things happen.”

Barker said that No Labels members can discuss painful subjects to get things done and have a new ethic among policy makers who put aside rhetoric to approach issues in a rational manner and look for evidence.

“We desperately need this if we want to continue the governing process, especially for my generation of millennials,” he said. “None of us leave our principles, but we can agree on the framework, and then we can compromise on the whole goal. If we don’t do this, millennials will become more disillusioned.”

Barker said that he sees the demand for a functional government.

“It’s not an easy process,” he said. “No agenda tackling these complex issues will be easy, but we can try.”

By the end of the year, Obama plans to ask Congress to approve more funding for the Ebola initiatives in Africa, authorize the use of military force against the Islamic State group and pass a budget for the rest of the fiscal year.

“Anywhere where we can find common ground, I’m eager to pursue it,” Obama said Wednesday at his press conference.

Reach reporter Lorain Watters at [email protected] or 202-408-1494. SHFWire stories are free to any news organization that gives the reporter a byline and credits the SHFWire. Like the Scripps Howard Foundation Wire interns on Facebook and follow us on Twitter​.