Vail Daily column: A little light amid the darkness in D.C. |

Vail Daily column: A little light amid the darkness in D.C.

Mark McKinnon
Special to the Daily

There’s at least one thing that most Americans can agree on: Congress is dysfunctional and it’s hurting our country.

Everyone has a pet theory for why Congress is broken — from too much money in politics to too little real competition for incumbents during elections. But few have any idea what to do about this dysfunction.

Thankfully, a growing group of members within Congress might be pointing the way to an answer.

They’re called the No Labels’ Problem Solvers coalition, and they now include 81 Democrats and Republicans in the House and Senate meeting regularly to build trust across the aisle. On July 18, the group announced its first big initiative: a new legislative package called Make Government Work! that is designed to make government more effective and efficient.

So, why is this development such a big deal exactly?

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First, there’s the legislative package itself, which features nine commonsense proposals (all with bipartisan cosponsors) that collectively could save taxpayers tens of billions of dollars. These are simple straightforward ideas like merging the medical records of the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs, reducing energy waste in federal buildings and fixing the flawed congressional budgeting process.

Forget for a moment whether you think government should be doing more or less, which is really the fundamental debate in American politics. We should all be able to agree that whatever government is doing now should be done better — which is what this package aims to achieve.

Second, and perhaps more importantly, the Problem Solvers coalition is unlike anything that has existed on Capitol Hill. Before the advent of this group, the only time rank-and-file members really met with the other party was when forced to by a crisis. Or when a bipartisan “gang” rallied around a particular issue.

But No Labels decided that we wanted to build a more sustainable framework for cooperation on Capitol Hill. For the last three years, No Labels has been working to mobilize Democrats, Republicans and independents behind our new politics of problem solving because we believe that Washington will only change with concerted pressure from people across America. Late last year, we decided to focus our organizing efforts directly on Congress, when we began recruiting members into this new coalition – appropriately named the Problem Solvers.

The response from members — who themselves have tired of the constant gridlock — has been astounding. Membership in the group has more than tripled since January. Even as news headlines have fixated on the continued dysfunction on Washington these last few months, members of the Problem Solvers coalition have been quietly meeting to rebuild trust with colleagues across the aisle and to begin developing solutions. Make Government Work! is their first effort, with the promise of many more to come.

It’s important to note — this group is not a bunch of squishy centrists or mushy moderates pushing bipartisanship for its own sake. A look at our roster of members will reveal committed liberals, committed conservatives and everyone in between. Being a part of this coalition isn’t about any particular ideology. It’s about an attitude. It’s about a willingness to search for common ground instead of just exploiting areas of conflict.

No one should expect overnight miracles from the Problem Solvers coalition. Washington has been dysfunctional for a long time and it will take time to fix. But the creation of the Problem Solvers coalition and the release of Make Government Work! represents a long-overdue step in the right direction.

America’s problems aren’t going away. And we can’t just wait for another Congress or another generation to deal with them.

We need solutions now. That’s what No Labels’ Problem Solvers coalition is working to find.

Mark McKinnon is a cofounder of No Labels, a national movement of Democrats, Republicans and independents dedicated to promoting a new politics of problem solving. He will be speaking about No Labels for the Vail Symposium Wednesday at 6 p.m. at The Grand View in Vail.

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