Would that it were true.
Could the U.S. Congress actually, finally, mercifully be seeking to end partisan gridlock?
On Thursday, U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud and U.S. Sen. Angus King were among 80 elected officials who participated in a “Make Congress Work: No Labels” event as part of a long-term, problem-solving coalition.
The aim of the coalition — co-founded by Maine gubernatorial candidate Eliot Cutler — is for federal lawmakers to “demonstrate trust-building priorities” to the American people. To, quite literally, make Congress work by convincing congressmen and women to work together toward the nation’s common good.
When the group was founded in 2010, members established a 12-step plan to get to work.
When lawmakers met Thursday, they narrowed the 12 goals down to nine bills to get their work started.
1) If Congress can’t pass a budget on time, members should not get paid.
2) Move to a two-year budgeting process.
3) Get rid of duplicate agencies and programs identified by the Government Accountability Office.
4) Seek to reduce duplication of independent contracts for common items among federal agencies.
5) Stop assuming automatic year-to-year spending increases in agency budgets (that’s a good one).
6) Merge the electronic health records of the Department of Defense with the Department of Veterans Affairs (another good one).
7) Cut 50 percent of agency travel and replace it with videoconferencing (which the private sector is already doing).
8) Reduce energy waste in federal buildings by incentivising private companies to identify savings and use those savings instead of tax dollars to pay these companies.
9) Create a new Commission for Government Transformation to oversee the shift of federal programs to more economical, efficient and effective entities.
One of the original No Labels goals was to fix the filibuster, but that concept didn’t emerge as a priority Thursday, nor did a requirement to make members of Congress work three five-day weeks a month in Washington and one week in their home districts, which would have amounted to a full-time work schedule rather than the vacation-padded schedule Congress works now.
Another concept dropped from among this group’s early efforts was a mandate to end negative campaigns against sitting members of the opposing party which, if the group really wants to build trust with the public, would be a great step in the right direction.
While one might debate the priority order of the get-to-work plan, it’s a good plan and is much-needed.
In a statement prepared in advance of Thursday’s event, King said: “We owe it to the American people to pursue their best interests. ... It is only by working together that we can accomplish this goal.”
King should know. He was whisked into office last November after Sen. Olympia Snowe retired, horrified by perennial hyper-partisanship and the do-nothing work ethic of Congress. She didn’t see any change in sight, but King thought it was worth fighting for.
Michaud did, too, and while on the campaign trail last year, he expressed optimism that Congress had finally recognized its own dysfunction and would right itself.
Whether Thursday was the first step in that process remains to be seen, and the No Labels group certainly has plenty of popular, public support.
But does it have the fortitude to succeed?
In 2011, Michaud was among 81 co-sponsors of the “No budget, No Pay Act,” a proposal that was wildly popular with more than 90 percent of Americans and would have required members of Congress to pass a budget or risk their paychecks.
At the time, Michaud said, “It’s sad that this bill is even needed, but Congress shouldn’t get paid if they can’t do their work.”
That’s true, particularly because that’s how it works for all other Americans. If we don’t work, we don’t get paid.
But, he said, “In this era of dysfunction in our nation’s capital, this bill would at least put pressure on Congress to accomplish its most basic responsibilities.”
That might be true if Congress actually passed the bill, but it hasn’t.
HR 310 was most recently considered in January when it was referred to the House Committee on House Administration and its sister S.124 was twice read and placed on the Senate Legislative Calendar. And, there they still sit.
Even if (or when) Congress acts, the bill — as written — would not be enacted until February 2016, which doesn’t exactly pressure the current Congress to get its work done.
If King, Michaud and other members of No Labels are to succeed in the eyes of the public (and the minds of the voters), they have to be tireless about moving their agenda forward and holding their peers accountable.
However, given that the existing No Labels group represents just under 7 percent of the entire body of Congress, its members may not have the muscle they need to force real change unless they can recruit more lawmakers to their cause.
So, before the work to Make Congress Work begins, the real work may be building popular consensus. That's where we citizens can help, by supporting lawmakers who are willing to work and working to unseat those who are not.
The opinions expressed in this column reflect the views of the ownership and the editorial board.